President Bush says people who want to put restrictions on U.S. trade with Mexico are isolationist. And he says he remains strongly opposed to efforts in the United States Congress to keep Mexican trucks off American roads. Mr. Bush defended his trade policy during a visit to the border state of New Mexico.
The President went before a group of Hispanic business owners in Albuquerque - a city with a strong Mexican-American heritage. He officially opened a job-training center, and spoke about the importance of strong economies on both sides of the U.S. border with Mexico. "We want our neighbors to be successful," the president said. "We understand that a poor neighbor is somebody who is going to be harder to deal with than a neighbor that is prospering. And that is why it is so important for us to tear down barriers and walls that might separate Mexico from the United States."
The biggest sticking point is whether Mexican trucks will be able to haul goods long distances on American roads under terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Opponents in Congress - and their allies in the labor union movement - are vowing to block access, saying the trucks are unsafe.
The President said their arguments are not sound. He said they are advocating an isolationist and protectionist course. "I say that if we are going to have NAFTA, we ought to enforce all of NAFTA. I believe strongly we can have safety on our highways without discriminating against our neighbors to the south," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush seemed energized by the crowd at the job center, and slipped occasionally into Spanish as he talked about issues of importance to New Mexico and the Hispanic community.
The President has been making an all-out effort to court Hispanic voters -the fastest growing minority group in the United States. He said the American dream is their dream, pointing to the rising number of Hispanic owned businesses in the country. "One of the pieces of incredibly good news about America is the number of Latino businesses is increasing dramatically," he said. "The fastest growing business sectors in many of our states is the Hispanic owned businesses. That is good news for America."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush visited a school in Albuquerque that serves some of the poorest Hispanic neighborhoods in the city. He read to a class of seven and eight year olds, and addressed an assembly marking the start of the new school year.
The stop gave President Bush a chance to show a softer, more personal side. He sat in a circle with a group of children during the story telling session. And at the end of his brief remarks at the school assembly, Mr. Bush took questions from students and a few parents. One little boy asked the President if he was a good student as a child. Mr. Bush - who has joked at times about his lackluster academic record - responded with a laugh and a smile.