Bush: Opposition to Free Trade Blocks Cleaner Air, Water

WASHINGTON, DC, May 8, 2001 (ENS) - Launching free trade throughout the Western Hemisphere "is not just an economic opportunity, it is a moral imperative," says President George W. Bush.

Speaking Monday before the Council of the Americas, a group of regional business leaders, Bush outlined the benefits of open markets while exhorting Congress to grant him the authority to negotiate international trade deals that can be voted up or down by legislators without changes.

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President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy the White House)
Describing trade promotion authority as "one tool I must have," Bush pledged to "use that authority to build freedom in the world, progress in our hemisphere, and enduring prosperity in the United States."

Later this week, Bush will send the outline of his trade agenda to Congress. "My administration wants to work with Congress and to listen to what the members have to say. We've been especially impressed by the fresh new thinking of many members about how to advance environmental and worker protection concerns in ways that open trade, rather than closing trade," he said.

The President said open trade benefits the environment. "Americans want to live on a cleaner planet; we want labor standards upheld and children protected from exploitation. Americans want human rights and individual freedom to advance. Open trade advances those American values, those universal values," he told the Council of the Americas.

The Summit of the Americas in Quebec City last month reached agreement to move forward towards creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas. The gathering of heads of government and trade ministers April 18-20 was protested vigorously by an estimated 40,000 people, including environmentalists opposed to free trade, but it was a success anyway, Bush said.

"A recent summit in Quebec symbolized the new reality in our hemisphere - a unity of shared values, shared culture and shared trade. And together, we made good progress at that summit, the beginnings of a really strong and fruitful relationship all throughout the hemisphere," Bush said Monday.

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Protesters at Quebec City mask their faces against tear gas. (Photo by Brandon Constant courtesy Indymedia.org)
Environmentalists protesting in Quebec City fear that free trade rules for a pact that encompasses the entire Western Hemisphere would mirror the controversial Chapter 11 in the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Canada and Mexico. This clause allows corporations to bring lawsuits against national governments for taking actions and passing laws which would inhibit trade and reduce profits. These actions and laws could mandate environmental protections.

The coalition of unions and non-governmental organizations from across the Americas expressed fears that should a Free Trade Area of the Americas be established, corporations would be able to disregard environmental, labor and human rights laws in the interests of profits.

But Bush told the Council of the Americas that American nations are being left out of free trade agreements that are being negotiated all over the world. "This has got to change," the President said. "Americans are the world's pre-eminent inventor of new technology and the world's biggest foreign investor. We're the world's most efficient food producer, and the world's leading source of information and entertainment. For our farmers and our inventors, for our artists and for ordinary savers, open trade pays off in the form of higher incomes and higher returns."

"By failing to make the case for trade," the President said, "we've allowed a new kind of protectionism to appear in this country. It talks of workers, while it opposes a major source of new jobs. It talks of the environment, while opposing the wealth creating policies that will pay for clean air and water in developing nations."