Bush envisions Western Hemisphere free trade zone
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush pledged to representatives of nearly every nation in the Western Hemisphere Tuesday that he would press Congress for fast-track trade authority to help create a free trade zone throughout the Americas.
Bush, in his inaugural address to the Organization of American States in Washington, said high-level operatives of his administration would lay the groundwork for the trade zone at this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Quebec, Canada.
Bush will attend the summit that starts Friday and continues through Sunday. The goal of the U.S. delegation will be to start the long talking process.
Bush said he hoped commerce could be initiated within the zone by 2005.
"Free trade across the Americas by January 2005 ... will make our hemisphere the largest free trade area in the world, encompassing 34 countries and 800 million people," Bush told a crowd of OAS dignitaries that included Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria, the former president of Colombia.
Open trade, Bush said, would spread "democratic values," which have been adopted by all of the nations of the hemisphere, "save for one," he said, referring to communist Cuba.
"Democratic values cannot flourish unless our hemisphere builds a prosperity whose benefits are widely shared," Bush said.
Such a trade regime, he said, would apply the power of growth markets toward helping millions of poor. Governmental and judicial corruption could be greatly reduced, he argued, and improved academics could eventually be put in place in many areas.
"For all of these reasons, my administration is committed to pursuing open trade aggressively."
Meanwhile, Bush told his audience, he will intensify his push to convince Congress that his administration must be granted "fast-track" authority so it can quickly conclude deals with countries it determines have the potential to be valuable trading partners.
"Since open trade is one of my top priorities, gaining U.S. trade promotion authority is one of my top priorities in Congress," he said. "Trade promotion authority gives our trading partners the confidence that they can rely on the deals they negotiate."
As soon as this weekend's summit ends, Bush said, his administration would issue a draft trade agreement so that potential participants could weigh in with their observations as early as possible.
"In Quebec, our goal is simple, yet profound," Bush said. "The discussions we hold and the mandates we produce must help the people of this hemisphere."
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