President Bush says his administration will explore the possibility of a free trade agreement with the nations of Central America.

Mr. Bush says free trade is one key to a better future for all in the hemisphere.

The announcement came in a speech to a public affairs group meeting at the Organization of American States' Washington headquarters.

Mr. Bush told the World Affairs Council that he wants to expand hemispheric trade. "The United States will explore a free trade agreement with the countries of Central America," he said.

The president said it will be another step toward the goal of a free trade area of the Americas. "All of these efforts depend on one thing: Congress must pass Trade Promotion Authority," he said.

The House of Representatives has already agreed to give the president the ability to negotiate trade pacts secure in the knowledge they will not be changed by Congress. The Senate is expected to take up the matter when the legislature reconvenes next week.