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Bush Discusses Trade, Tourism with Caribbean Leaders


President Bush conferred Thursday at the White House with the leaders of three Caribbean nations: Barbados, the Bahamas and Belize. VOA's Paula Wolfson has the story.

The three prime ministers came to Washington at the invitation of the president to talk about regional matters.

Mr. Bush says trade and tourism topped the list.

"We talked about how to make sure that our security needs are met without interrupting the ability for our people to travel as freely as possible and the ability of people to be able to make a good living as a result of tourism," he said.

The president says he also went out of his way during the session to assure the three prime ministers that the United States remains engaged in "the neighborhood."

"It was important for these leaders to know that we believe a good, strong, healthy, vibrant neighborhood is in the interest of the United States," he said.

Two of the Caribbean leaders who took part in the meeting were recently elected to office, David Thompson of Barbados, and Dean Barrow of Belize. Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham of the Bahamas, the veteran of the group, spoke for the three at the end of the White House meeting.

He told reporters he was especially interested in their discussions with President Bush on trade, specifically the fate of the package of trade programs known as the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

"We have discussed with him a number of issues of relevance and concern to ourselves including the desire on our part to have the Caribbean Initiative Act extended, which expires in September of this year," he said.

The Caribbean Basin Initiative was launched in 1983 and expanded in 2000. It currently provides 19 Caribbean countries with duty-free access to the U.S. market for most goods.

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