President Bush says the United States will push for a bold and wide-ranging agreement when world trade talks reconvene on the ministerial level next week in Hong Kong.
The president talked up trade during a visit to a factory in the state of North Carolina.
It is an area particularly sensitive to changes in trading patterns. Its traditional textile industry has fallen on hard times due to foreign competition. However, new jobs are being created as foreign investors move in and create joint ventures with American firms.
The Japanese firm Hitachi, for example, has joined with the American company John Deere to build a successful factory that makes construction equipment. Mr. Bush toured the plant and then told the employees that trade is key to keeping the economy growing. He stressed, however, that it must be free and fair.
"By opening up new markets for our goods and our farm products and our services, we can help this economy continue to grow and create opportunity for people right here in our country," the president said.
He spoke of trade not as a threat to American jobs - as critics have charged - but as a plus. Mr. Bush noted that one in every 12 jobs in North Carolina is supported by exports and that the Deere-Hatachi plant has tripled its work force and taken on production once done in other countries.
"Here's what I believe," he said. "I believe free trade is good for jobs. I believe opening markets for U.S. products is smart to do. I know we have got to make sure we have a level playing field because when we have a level playing field, the American worker, the American entrepreneur and the American farmer can compete with anybody, any time, any place."
President Bush said the greatest opportunity to advance the goal of free and fair trade is through the Doha Round of world trade talks. They are currently stalled over agricultural issues, and Mr. Bush said the upcoming meeting of trade ministers in Hong Kong is critical.
"I told our trade representative, Ambassador Rob Portman, he has got to push for a bold and wide-ranging agreement," he said. "Opportunity increasingly depends on a free and fair global trading global system. And our administration is going to continue to use our influence to bring greater opportunities for the American worker."
The speech in North Carolina was the first of a series of appearances the White House plans in coming weeks to highlight the president's economic policies.
New statistics show the economy is growing at a faster than expected pace, and unemployment remains low. Yet polls show most Americans have a pessimistic view of the nation's economic health.
The president's economic advisors acknowledge a certain disconnect between the economic figures and public attitudes about the economy. Some private economists say the economic recovery has been uneven, noting that while inflation is low, wages have dropped and the poverty rate is at a six-year high.