U.S. President George W. Bush has signed legislation implementing U.S. free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore.
These are historic pacts. Chile is the first South American country to get a free trade agreement with the United States, and Singapore is the first Asian-Pacific nation.
Mr. Bush signed the necessary legislation to put the two trade deals into effect at a ceremony attended by members of Congress, trade negotiators and diplomats. He used the occasion to hail the benefits of free trade at home and around the world.
"The continued advance of free trade is essential to this nation's prosperity," said Mr. Bush. "A world that trades in freedom will grow in prosperity and in security."
Mr. Bush said statistics show American workers have benefited from the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Uruguay Round of international trade negotiations. Sensitive to criticism that low wages abroad have cost U.S. jobs, the president pointed to the impact greater American exports have had on the nation's economy.
"Exports accounted for roughly one-quarter of our economy's growth in the 1990s," said the president. "Jobs in exporting plants pay wages that average up to 18 percent more than jobs in non-exporting plants."
The president said the agreement with Chile will benefit many American industries such as agriculture and construction equipment, automobiles, computers and financial services. He said Chile has one of the fastest growing economies in the developing world and with this agreement will be able to grow even further.
Mr. Bush then noted that Singapore is already America's 12th largest trading partner, and exports in high tech goods will expand with this pact. And he promised these agreements are just the beginning. "I sign this legislation today fully expecting to sign many more free trade agreements. We are now negotiating with Australia, and Morocco, five nations in Central America and the Southern African Customs Union."
The agreements with Singapore and Chile go into effect on January 1, 2004. In addition to phasing out tariffs and other import restrictions, the pacts improve anti-piracy and copyright protections for the American entertainment industry. They also include provisions calling on all three countries to enforce labor and environmental laws.