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Sunday, 24 March, 2002, 22:43 GMT
Bush backs Latin American free trade
Mr Bush and Mr Flores
Bush and Flores: "Free trade means jobs"
United States President George Bush has pledged his support for free-trade policies in Latin America, during a whirlwind visit to El Salvador.

At a joint news conference with Salvadorean President Francisco Flores, Mr Bush reiterated his now familiar mantra that trade is the answer to the region's problems.

Trade means jobs. Trade means that people who want to work are more likely to find jobs

President Bush
Winding up a trip to the region which included earlier visits to Mexico and Peru, the president also pledged to promote immigration policies that gave Latin American workers access to US jobs.

After the conference with Mr Flores, George Bush held a brief meeting with other regional leaders, before flying back to Washington on Sunday night after only six hours in the country.

'Bright light'

President Bush said it was in his country's best interests to have a "prosperous and peaceful" Latin America.

Trade, he said, would "reinforce the region's progress toward political, economic and social reform."

President Bush at San Salvador airport
President Bush spent only six hours in El Salvador
Mr Bush described El Salvador as one of the "bright lights" of Latin America, and said he came away from the meeting "most optimistic about the future" of the country.

After being sidetracked by events following 11 September, Mr Bush has sought to reassure America's southern neighbours of his continued interest in fostering economic growth in the region.

Progress towards a Free-Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) - proposed by former US President Bill Clinton in 1994 - has been delayed because the Senate has not yet approved special negotiating powers for the president.

But Mr Bush used the visit to El Salvador to show his commitment to the agreement. "We're going to continue to pursue the FTAA, which aims to encompass the whole hemisphere," he said.

"Trade means jobs. Trade means that people who want to work are more likely to find jobs."

New tariffs

But critics have questioned President Bush's commitment to a free trade pact in the Americas after two new tariffs have recently been imposed by the US government.

The Bush administration announced stiff tariffs on Canadian lumber on Friday, just weeks after hiking tariffs on imported steel.

El Salvador is the last stop on Bush's tour
The new steel tariffs will especially impact Brazil, which exported $726m of steel products to the US last year.

After his meeting with President Flores, Mr Bush attended a working lunch with the leaders of Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

Mr Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said the purpose of the meeting was primarily to acknowledge the region's recovery from decades of civil wars.

"The president has... a very warm spot in his heart for the Central American presidents who - despite very difficult odds, where most of them were living in countries that were in civil war just a few years ago - are really making a tremendous effort to make life better for their people," said Ms Rice.

See also:

24 Mar 02 | Americas
US role in Salvador's brutal war
24 Mar 02 | Americas
Bush backs Peru's war on terrorism
22 Mar 02 | Americas
Lima security high for Bush visit
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: El Salvador
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