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Bush: US Concerned About Difficulties Facing Argentina - 2002-01-17

President Bush says the Argentine government must strengthen its commitment to market-based reforms, and put a solid economic plan in place. Mr. Bush says he is hopeful that Argentina will get through its current fiscal crisis.

The President says America is deeply concerned about the difficulties facing Argentina. He says he knows economic reforms are sometimes painful, and acknowledges there are some who are "questioning the path to prosperity."

"Argentina and nations throughout our hemisphere need to strengthen our commitment to market-based reform, not weaken it," said Mr. Bush. "Shortcuts to reform only lead to more trouble. Half measures will not halve the pain, only prolong it."

The comments came to members of a public affairs association meeting at the Washington headquarters of the Organization of American States. President Bush said the United States is prepared to help Argentina. But he stressed the Argentine government must take action first. "Once Argentina has committed to a sound and sustainable economic plan; I will support assistance for Argentina through international financial institutions," he said.

It is a statement the president has made several times in recent weeks as Argentina's economic crisis has led to riots and political uncertainty. But this time, Mr. Bush coupled his remarks with words of warning. "Success in the global economy comes to countries that maintain fiscal discipline, open their borders to trade, privatize inefficient state enterprises, deregulate their domestic markets, and invest in the health and education of their people," he said. "And those who promise painless protectionism or security through statism [nationalism], assure a bleak and stagnant future for their people."

Mr. Bush said there are three keys to a better future for the Western Hemisphere. They are democracy, security, and economic growth. He said for economies to grow there must be a strong belief in free markets and free trade. To that end, he announced the United States will explore a free trade agreement with the countries of Central America.

"Our purpose," said Mr. Bush, "is to strengthen the economic ties we already have with these nations, to reinforce their progress toward economic, political and social reform, and to take another step toward completing the Free Trade Area of the Americas."

President Bush went on to say, however, that little progress is likely unless the U.S. Congress gives him greater trade negotiating authority. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation that strips lawmakers of the ability to change trade deals submitted by the president for approval. The Senate is expected to take up the measure when congress reconvenes next week.