Thank you all very much. And thank you for that warm welcome and the welcome from various members of this association that I see all around the hall here. And let me salute Ambassador Sotirhos -- proud of his Greek heritage -- doing a fantastic job for the United States of America here in Athens and in this great country. And I'm proud of him, I'm proud of his wife, and I am delighted with the job he is doing for all of us.
And may I salute Mr. Petsiavas and Mr. Ioannou and Mr. Tsomokos and the members of the Greek and foreign diplomatic corps who are with us today. I see the dean over here. But others are here, I am sure. And I just want to say again how pleased Barbara and I are to be here.
If we look a little bit that we've been outside, the answer is, we have. We had a fantastic visit up at the Parthenon, and there we had a chance to salute 2,500 years of democracy and commitment to individual rights.
And this is quite a scene, if you think about it. I notice that Mike very generously said I was a businessman, but when he said profit and loss, I thought he put a little too much emphasis on the last one. [Laughter] But far be it from me to be critical. And he was right about the risk-taking and trying -- which I think has given me a little more understanding about what your lives are all about, as you try to build the productivity of this country and the productivity of our great country.
So, it is quite a scene. Here we have a number of citizens -- accomplished citizens from many countries -- gathered in the capital of Greece -- Athens -- in a hotel run by an American company. And that certainly symbolizes the kinds of ties that our nations enjoy, and ties that I want to talk to you about today. I am sorry I wasn't here for the breakfast. They told me that inside the eggs there was going to be broccoli. And I decided I would come in later -- [laughter] -- just for the very end of all of this.
But, you know, we brought with us from England two gentlemen that are known to many here. For those that don't know them, I just want to single them out. Sons of Greece, great friends of Greece, but people who have joined us here and who have done great things for the United States, and I'm talking about my dear friends Alex Spanos and Alec Kortelas. I'd like them to stand if they're here. There they are.
I single them out because really there are others, many others right in this room like them. There are many others in the United States like them. But they show that opportunity can translate into prosperity. And in many ways their example ought to serve as a beacon for Greek businessmen in Greece. They show that a new world order applies old world genius to new world realities. So, Alec and Alex, our businessmen, they remind me from time to time that time is money. So, in the interest of keeping profits high, I promise to keep this morning's talk short. I know that will come as a great relief to all of you.
Let me just talk a little bit about improving economic relations between the United States and Greece, and to express my support -- strong support -- for the economic path that Prime Minister Mitsotakis has charted for this great county. The Prime Minister has taken a giant first step towards strengthening the Greek economy by outlining some goals that sound very familiar to this American President.
He wants to cut the redtape, privatize the economy, reduce the cost and size of the public sector, of the government sector, and get his economy on a growth path.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis deserves enormous credit for working to lift the veil that for too long kept Greece out of the international economic mainstream. He understands that free markets, not state-management, can help Greece invigorate its economy, reduce its deficit, pay off its external debt, and remain a member in good standing of the European Community.
We shouldn't underestimate, given the state of the world economy, the difficulty of the Prime Minister's task. We shouldn't underestimate its importance either. So, let me just tell you what he and I talked about, what I told him.
First, we believe in the reform efforts. And I might ask you to take a rather global look at this point. It isn't simply Greece that is moving on this important path that I have outlined above. Take a look at what is happening in Eastern Europe. Take a look at the aspirations inside the Soviet Union towards privatization and market reform and convertibility and all of the things necessary to improve the lives of the people through trade. Far better to do it that way than through some aid program that screeches to a halt because it has no underpinnings.
So, we are embarked here on a program that really makes a difference, this reform program. I think his reforms will work. I think they can make a big difference in Greece. You see, we also believe strongly in the benefits of trade. I left that economic summit there in London more determined than ever to press for open markets, free and fair trade around the world, and open investment opportunities everywhere. This isn't to benefit solely the United States, and yes, we would benefit, but it is to benefit every single country that participates in achieving these goals.
You see, the litter of communism provides eloquent testimony to what happens when people forget about the virtues of free enterprise and avoid the tough discipline that competition provides. If we want to make the most of the talent of our people in America, in Greece, in Europe, and all around the world, we must advance the cause of free and fair trade.
Our administration remains totally determined to reach a successful conclusion of the GATT -- of this Uruguay round -- and I remain optimistic that we can do so.
As I look at the various economies around the world, I am absolutely convinced that Greece would benefit enormously from a successful conclusion of the GATT round. The more Greece opens its markets to foreign investment and the more it works to develop its export industries, the more secure its future will be. And I am happy to say that our trade relationship with Greece is growing stronger every single day. The United States enjoys what I think is a special and strong relationship with Greece. And again, I salute the Prime Minister for his key role in all of this.
That relationship should make a lot of people happy. Consider the bottom line. U.S. exports to Greece increased 10 percent last year, and Greek imports to the U.S. increased by $30 million. But you see, if you look at the big picture -- and you all understand this -- that was only a beginning. Our governments recently have signed a bilateral customs agreement, a new civil aviation agreement, a joint declaration on tourism. And I believe that these initiatives will increase the number of commercial flights between the nations, speed the flow of goods through customs, and generate more tourist business.
I couldn't help but stand there -- Barbara and I talked about this -- standing there just in the wish that many and all Americans could someday share the joys that we felt standing in the midst of that history just a few minutes ago. The Greek and the U.S. Governments are cooperating effectively in this worldwide fight against terrorism, and this effort is obviously going to remain a priority for both countries. We're trying to expand trade and investment opportunities for American companies that want to do business in Greece. And we have worked to protect intellectual property rights, patents, copyrights, trademarks, and the like for American firms doing business in Greece. We have worked with the Government of Greece to ensure the swift and fair repatriation of profits. It has to happen. And we hope to improve the prospects for American firms interested in bidding on Greek Government contracts.
This progress -- and I'm not saying there is not more that needs to be done. There is. But this progress demonstrates that the Greek Government is ready to do business with American companies and that it welcomes American investment. And this is a refreshing change. And it explains why, for the first time in more than a decade, OPIC, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, can offer insurance and financing for private-sector investment projects. The investment climate here seems more hospitable than ever for Americans.
And now the United States needs to take advantage of the welcome that the Prime Minister has given us. So, as I announced yesterday in my speech to the legislature, I have asked Commerce Secretary Bob Mosbacher, known to many in this room, to lead a Presidential trade and investment mission to Greece this autumn. And that mission can persuade even more American businesses to take advantage of the opportunities that are already here and the opportunities that will be here in the future.
In the days and months ahead, our Governments will continue working to improve economic relations and eliminate these obstacles to growth. But in the end, good business is common sense, and common sense ought to guide us as we work to build a more prosperous future.
I am happy to say that I think, as you look at this country and our country, things look good. In the United States, as everyone here knows, we've been facing substantial, tremendous economic problems. Our country has been in recession, albeit by historical standards statistically rather mild. But some of our people have been hurting because of this recession. Most of the indicators now are that the recession is over and that growth is beginning. And it is my own view that if that growth pattern continues, and I think it will, this will benefit businesses all around the world. The dynamism and the size of the American economy relates to economies of small countries and medium-sized countries all around the globe.
So, we are more optimistic today about the economies at home. I must tell you, as President, I think it is tremendously important that we keep a vigil out. Last year, about this time, I lost about 4 quarts of blood fighting with Congress on a budget agreement. But I can tell you that the results of that budget agreement, controversial though it may have been, painful though it may have been, we now have caps -- real caps -- on Government spending. It is fine for me to come to Greece and lecture the Greeks about how they ought to control the Government sector. But we'd better do something about it ourselves in the United States. And so, we have put caps -- real caps, that are holding -- on our own spending. And I think that will result in the Government sector getting more under control and freeing up the private sector, as our economy recovers, to do the dynamic things that only private enterprise can take care of.
So, I am going to fight for those caps. I am going to keep them on. And I don't care how much blood it takes in the future, I am not going to let the Congress take them and let us go back to reckless Government spending that hurts the enterprise and hurts the American people.
And so, as one firm says, I am bullish on America -- and I'm not advertising for one firm against some of the others I see around here -- but I have reason to be. And let me just tell you something very personally. This is a fantastic and challenging time, a rewarding time to be President of the greatest and freest country on the face of the Earth. As you look around the world and you see what has happened in Eastern Europe; as you see the changes that are already beginning to take hold in the gigantic Soviet Union; as you see our own hemisphere -- the Western Hemisphere -- with all but one country moving down democracy's path; as you take a look at Asia and the dynamic trade relationships that we have with Asia -- and that they are continuing to grow -- we remain, in spite of our affinity and affection for the people of Greece and Europe -- we are also a Pacific power -- and you see those trade relationships strengthening -- I can tell you, it is an enormously rewarding time -- in spite of the problems we face -- to be President of the United States.
I happen to believe that the action that we took collectively with allies -- and I will always be grateful to Greece for their participation -- the action we took against Saddam Hussein gave the United States a new respect and credibility around the world. And I am very grateful, obviously, to the men and women who served under our banner. But the other day I had a chance to reward the French general, the British general, with high honors, expressing our appreciation that this was not a United States unilateral move; it was a revitalized United Nations, and it brought together Greece and the United States and Turkey and many other countries who stood up against -- for a common purpose -- and that purpose is aggression, bullying, one neighbor against another, will not stand. It did not stand. And we've set a principle out there for the world. It will not stand in the future. And I am very grateful to everybody that participated.
And so, that achievement of that common purpose of turning back aggression from a bullying and brutal dictator now leads us to what I call a possibility of a new world order. And let me just assure you -- this isn't on the subject of commerce, it's on the subject of political rivalries, it's on the subject of world peace -- that we will use every bit of this newfound political power or this worldwide credibility to do our best to bring peace to the historically troubled corners of the world.
As you see the changes that are taking place in your sphere, and then you couple those with the changes that are taking place in the political sphere, I think we all conclude that we have a historic opportunity. I must tell you, I felt very strongly about that when I sat down with Mikhail Gorbachev the other day in London. They are trying. They've got enormous economic problems. But we sat there, and we finalized a strategic arms reduction treaty, the first time that we have been able to significantly reduce the destabilization of the world through intercontinental ballistic missiles. It is a wonderful achievement, not just for the American people, not just for the people in the Soviet Union, for I think it reflects on everybody in Greece, the feeling that we can curtail the unprofitability that goes into these massive arms and then bring the power of private enterprise to bear, helping the people of the countries around the world. These are exciting times. These are not times to be pessimistic about the world in which we live.
And so, things do look good. The President of this great country and the Prime Minister have felt, as we're back to bilateral relations now, have helped forge what is a new beginning here, a new beginning to an old friendship. And so, my challenge to you all is let's make things even better.
I want to thank you for inviting me this morning. I got a good shot of your strong coffee next door, which added to the warm welcome here, I might add. And now Barbara and I have the thrill of doing what I am sure everyone here has done, go to Crete -- as for us will be a first time, though this visit to Athens was not the first for either of us, which has been fantastic.
But I think we will take away a lot of things with us when we leave after this very short visit to Greece. But we won't ever forget the warm reception. We won't forget this meeting, because as you look around the room and see the numbers, you keep in mind the world opportunity that private business brings.
And so, thank you all. And may God bless Greece, but may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thank you all. It's a pleasure to be with you.