US President Vaunts Market-Driven Free TradeUS President George W. Bush Saturday sent a blunt message to protesters on the streets and skeptics inside the conference hall: market-driven free trade is the only way to deliver prosperity.
The US president, who made his first appearance at the international summit here since he took office in January, told the current Summit of the Americans plenary session that he is willing to "listen to voices inside this hall and outside this hall who want to join us in constructive dialogue."
Bush also used his speech to assure 33 Western Hemisphere fellow leaders that the United States will no longer hold up speedy passage of a hemispheric trade pact.
Much is at stake for Bush, who won the presidency with a narrow majority. He has already incurred widespread international disapproval by very publicly renouncing the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
In an effort to redress some of the damage from his ditching of Kyoto, Bush said this week that the United States would sign an international treaty banning especially polluting chemicals.
His unabashed embrace of unregulated hemispheric trade will not do much either to endear him to demonstrators on the streets in the French-speaking city.
"Free and open trade creates new jobs and new income," he said. "It lifts the living of all of our people. It spurs the process of economic and legal reform and open trade reinforces the habit of liberty that sustains democracy."
The 34 countries represented here have already agreed to implement a free trade zone by January 2005. Bush had wanted to move the start-up date to 2003 but there is not a chance of a breakthrough at this summit.
Bush, a strong proponent of free trade, has announced the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) a priority. His fellow leaders are skeptical about what the United States is prepared to bring to the table.
Crucial to any new deal will be Bush's ability to win fast- track negotiating authority from the U.S. Congress. The former U.S. president, Bill Clinton, failed to secure what the Bush administration calls trade promotion authority.
Without it, any hemispheric trade pact is almost sure to perish before it is produced and the new president's credibility will suffer a blow.
Bush told summit leaders that he will press the U.S. Congress for that authority soon after he leaves Quebec on Sunday, promising to hold "intense consultations" with members of Congress to obtain the authority he needs to negotiate the Free Trade Zone of the Americas that the leaders hope to establish by 2005.
"I'm confident I will get it," Bush said, predicting that Congress will grant the authority before the year's end.
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