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Bush makes case for free trade deal at summit

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Bush meets with Mexican, Canadian leaders at summit in New Orleans
  • NEW: He slams Dems, calls blocking Colombian deal bad for U.S. workers, security
  • NEW: Mexico, Canada not directly affected by pact, but are expected to back free trade
  • All three leaders back NAFTA, which Dem presidential candidates want to amend
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush used a meeting with Mexican and Canadian leaders Monday to hammer Democrats who oppose a free trade deal between the U.S. and Colombia, saying that blocking the deal is "bad for American workers and bad for our security."

President Bush greets Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the summit Monday in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Bush met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the fourth North American Leaders Summit, a two-day meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, that started Monday.

Mexico and Canada are not directly affected by the Colombia trade agreement, which Bush sent to Congress this month. But Calderon and Harper are expected to argue that free trade throughout the hemisphere is good for all three North American countries.

Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have moved to change rules so they would not be forced to vote on the deal with Colombia.

"Unfortunately, we had a setback in a very important free trade agreement with Colombia," Bush told a New Orleans civic group after meeting with Calderon and Harper. "The deal is dead unless she changes her mind -- and that's bad for American workers and it's bad for our security."

Bush said the current trade program with Colombia is unfair because virtually all Colombian products enter the United States duty free, but American exports face steep tariffs upon entering the South American nation. The agreement, if passed, would eliminate those tariffs and other barriers to trade.

"By approving this deal, it will level the playing field," Bush said. "Colombia is one of the strongest allies in our neighborhood, it's important to support our friends." Video Watch Bush make a case for expanding trade in the Americas »

The president, along with Calderon and Harper, also used the meeting as an opportunity to defend the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have criticized on the campaign trail. Both senators said they will work to amend the deal if elected president.

Bush said that since NAFTA was established 14 years ago, trade among the three nations has tripled and their economies have grown.

"As far as I'm concerned, trade is an issue that benefits both sides greatly," Calderon said. "It is something that generates jobs, both on the U.S. side and on the side of Mexico."

Added Harper: "We discussed a lot of things to do with the border, to do with environment, energy, trade and commercial relations. ... We've made some considerable progress on some of these things."

Former U.S. Ambassador Jim Jones, who was Washington's envoy to Mexico when NAFTA was launched in 1994, told CNN Radio on Monday that he hopes Bush and his counterparts "can help educate all the people of our countries that NAFTA has been a success, that jobs on a net basis have been created, [and that] those jobs pay more money than non-NAFTA-related jobs."

The United States, Canada and Mexico make up the world's largest trading bloc. A report by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative estimates three-nation commerce totaled about $930 billion last year.

NAFTA's critics say the deal has failed to increase investment and trade; has cost U.S. jobs; has suppressed U.S. and Mexican wages; has damaged U.S. agricultural and manufacturing output; and has done nothing to help the environment.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative says that the complaints are off base and that NAFTA benefits farmers, workers, manufacturers and consumers.

With the political scene in flux, and issues such as immigration, border security and a precarious U.S. economy in play, Jones doesn't expect the leaders to emerge from the two-day summit with any "headlines." Administration officials did little to suggest otherwise.

The leaders will meet Tuesday with representatives from the three countries' private sectors and hold a joint press conference, officials said.


Pamela Wallin, who was Canada's general consul to the United States from 2002 to 2006, said there is value to regular contact among the three leaders, even in the absence of major announcements.

"You've got to be able to pick up the phone and say, 'look, we've got a problem here,' " she said. "Because sometimes, those two guys or three guys can fix it in 30 seconds before it becomes a major issue that needs a political or a negotiated settlement." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dick Uliano, Ed Henry and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

All About NAFTAOffice of the United States Trade RepresentativeGeorge W. Bush

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