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Bush Says Colombia Trade Agreement Vital to Security


President Bush says Congress should approve a free-trade agreement with Colombia in recognition of President Alvaro Uribe's fight against violence and drug trafficking. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports Mr. Bush says failing to approve that agreement this year would embolden U.S. adversaries, including Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

President Bush says time is running out for a free-trade agreement with Colombia. If the deal is not approved, Mr. Bush told the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that it would send a signal to Latin America that the United States can not be trusted to stand by its allies.

"The Colombia agreement is pivotal to America's national security and economic interests right now," he said. "And it is too important to be held up by politics."

If approved, the deal would eliminate tariffs on more than 80 percent of U.S. exports of industrial and consumer goods and make permanent Colombia's preferential access to the U.S. market.

President Bush says Colombia is one of America's closest allies in the hemisphere and President Uribe has proven to be a strong and capable partner in fighting drugs, crime and terror.

Mr. Bush says the Colombian leader has spoken-out against anti-Americanism, making hard choices that the president says deserve the admiration and gratitude of the United States.

President Bush is backing President Uribe in his stand-off with Ecuador and Venezuela after Colombian troops attacked rebels based across the border in Ecuador earlier this month. Bogota apologized for the raid, but said it is a necessary part of its struggle against the FARC rebels.

Colombian officials say documents found during the fighting show that Venezuelan President Chavez paid $300 million to support those rebels. Venezuelan officials reject that claim.

President Bush says Colombia is waging an aggressive campaign against terrorists who do not respect national sovereignty or borders. He says President Chavez's praise for the FARC and his decision to send Venezuelan troops to the Colombian border is the latest step in what Mr. Bush calls a disturbing pattern of provocative behavior.

"As it tries to expand its influence in Latin America, the regime claims to promote social justice," said Mr. Bush. "In truth, its agenda amounts to little more than empty promises and a thirst for power. It has squandered its oil wealth in an effort to promote its hostile, anti-American vision."

President Bush says one of the most important ways the United States can demonstrate its support for Colombia is approving the free-trade agreement to support security in the Western Hemisphere and ensure a level playing field for U.S. products.

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