President Bush has reaffirmed his commitment to reaching a free trade agreement with Colombia, though he acknowledges striking a deal will not be easy. He spoke after talks at the White House with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
President Bush leaves no doubt there is a lot of work to be done. But he says the United States will negotiate in good faith.
He says the goal is an agreement that is good for both countries. "I'm very hopeful we will reach a conclusion. Trade agreements are never easy, and that's what's very important to understand. But in my judgment, and by the way, I, too, have to convince the American people of the importance of trade agreements, in my judgment an agreement with this important country, Colombia, will be a very important agreement. And so we're working hard," he said.
The negotiations have been under way for almost two years, and pushing them forward was the Colombian leader's main focus during his visit to Washington.
During a brief question and answer session at the end of their White House talks, President Bush was asked if he sees a link between promoting free trade and fighting narco-trafficking. "We've had a lot of discussions about crop substitution and micro loans for people to be able to develop ways to make a living that is distinct from and different from being involved in the drug trade. And so absolutely we understand the connection between trade of legal products in a free way between nations as a way to compete against illegal activities," he said.
This was the third meeting between the two presidents in just six months. Mr.Bush hosted the Colombian leader at his Texas ranch last August, and the two met last November in Argentina during the Summit of the Americas.