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North American Leaders Conclude Summit in New Orleans


U.S. President George Bush and the leaders of Canada and Mexico concluded their two-day summit meeting in New Orleans Tuesday, highlighting the benefits all three nations have gained from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from New Orleans, President Bush also used the occasion to urge the U.S. Congress to approve a trade deal with Colombia.

With his North American counterparts standing next to him, President Bush made a strong appeal to the Democrat controlled U.S. Congress to reconsider the trade deal his administration negotiated with Colombia. He cited Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's efforts to fight drug traffickers and terrorists and said the United States should back him.

"If we do not agree to a free trade agreement that we negotiated in good faith with them, it will undermine his efforts, it will destabilize parts of the world, and it would be a big mistake for Congress to turn its back on Colombia," he said.

He singled out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying if she doesn't schedule a vote on the free trade pact with Colombia, she will have killed it.

President Bush also criticized calls by both Democratic candidates for president, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, to renegotiate NAFTA. The president said the trade agreement has been good for all three countries in North America and has created jobs and opportunities for U.S. citizens that outweigh any of its drawbacks.

In this he was joined by the other North American leaders, who cited figures showing benefits to their nations.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the agreement has promoted job growth and a rise in income level in his nation. Speaking through a translator, he warned that any change in the agreement that would reduce the trade benefits would increase the number of Mexican workers who would have to go north of the border seeking employment.

"And another factor I discussed with President Bush yesterday that he reiterated today and I will reiterate now as well would be a sudden loss of economic opportunities that would lead to even greater migratory pressure with the United States," he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his nation would be open to any adjustments that a future U.S. president might seek in the trade agreement, but he said he sees no reason to make any substantive changes.

"I can tell you when I meet business people, not just from our country, but from around the continent, the benefits of our NAFTA relationship are without question," he said. "What all the focus is in our discussions is how to make it work better, how to make the border thinner, how to make commerce flow more quickly, more freely."

Both Prime Minister Harper and President Calderon also backed President Bush's argument for a trade deal with Colombia, saying that expansion of trade in the western hemisphere benefits everyone. Mexico already has its own trade agreement with Colombia and Canada is beginning talks aimed at creating an agreement.

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