Bush: New Free Trade Deals Will Strengthen US Economy, Create Jobs

President Bush is calling on Congress to approve free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. VOA White House correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats are vowing to override the president's veto of a program expanding children's health insurance.

With millions of American jobs dependent on exports, President Bush says Congress should quickly approve free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, and Panama, expanding American access to 75 million consumers.

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush says an agreement with Peru would remove most industrial tariffs for U.S. producers. A deal with Colombia would provide new duty-free access for American crops in what is already South America's largest market for U.S. agricultural goods.

The president says a free trade agreement with Panama would increase access for American farmers and ranchers and open opportunities for American businesses to participate in the multi-billion-dollar expansion of the Panama Canal.

"Expanding trade will help our economy grow," he said. "By passing these trade agreements, we will also serve America's security and moral interests. We will strengthen our ties with our friends. We will help counter the false populism promoted by hostile nations. And we will help young democracies show their people that freedom, openness, and the rule of law are the surest path to a better life."

The U.S. administration says 90 per cent of U.S. imports from the three Latin American countries enter duty-free.

Mr. Bush also wants Congress to ratify a free trade agreement with South Korea, which he says would open up one of the world's most powerful economies to more American goods and services.

"This agreement is projected to add more than $10 billion to America's economy. And like our agreements in Latin America, this agreement would strengthen our relationship with a democratic partner in a critical part of the world," he said.

Congress has not approved any of the president's free trade agreements since opposition Democrats took power in January. There is opposition to the Colombian deal from legislators who say they are troubled by the Colombian government's human rights record.

Democrats and some Republicans are questioning the South Korean agreement because of Seoul's barriers to U.S. auto and beef exports.

In the Democratic radio address, Senator Max Baucus from Montana continues his party's push to override the president's veto of a measure expanding children's health insurance. The program provides coverage for children in families that cannot afford private insurance but earn too much to qualify for government-run Medicaid.

President Bush vetoed the bill because he says it would move more people off private insurance and into government-run programs. He also objects to raising cigarette taxes to pay for it.

Overriding the veto requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. Democrats have the votes in the Senate. Baucus is lobbying Republicans to change their votes in the House.

"Every Republican must decide whether they will stand with the president and his veto, or stand with our children and their right to a healthy future," he said.

President Bush says he is willing to compromise with Congress if covering all eligible children not currently enrolled in the program requires more than the 20 percent increase he is proposing.

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