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Remarks Prior to Discussions With Central American Leaders and an Exchange With Reporters in Quebec City

April 20, 2001

The President. I want to thank the Presidents from some of the Central American countries for coming here. It's my honor to say, once again, hello to the President of El Salvador, the President of Panama, and the President of Honduras. Thank you all very much. I look forward to wide-ranging discussions on the benefits of trade, the need for us to continue to think about how best to have in place measures that will help in the case of future natural disasters, ways to continue to cooperate on issues of trafficking of people and arms and drugs.

So I look forward to a very fruitful discussion. I'm honored you all are here. El placir es mio.

I'll try to answer a few questions. Sandra [Sandra Sobieraj, Associated Press], have you got something?

Quebec Demonstrations

Q. Sir, the protests have really flared up outside. What do you have to say to the protesters?

The President. Well, if they are—if they're protesting because of free trade, I would say I disagree. I think trade is very important for this hemisphere. Trade not only helps spread prosperity, but trade helps spread freedom. And so I would just disagree with those who think that trade— somehow trade is going to negatively affect the working people and people for whom hope doesn't exist in some places. So we need trade, and I am convinced that the leadership that I met with agrees. And we can work together, because they understand that working together, we can bring prosperity throughout our entire hemisphere.

Secondly, I would hope that those out there expressing their opinion realize how important it is for the United States and Canada and Mexico to extend our agreements beyond our borders, to Central America and South America, where it's important to keep our neighborhood intact and to have a strong neighborhood. And these are our neighbors. I grew up in a world where if you treat your neighbor well, it's a good start to developing a wholesome community.

So I understand some people don't like trade; I just strongly disagree with them.

Trade Promotion Authority

Q. Mr. President, what are you telling summit leaders when they ask you how likely are you to get fast-track?

The President. Well, first of all, they understand that trade promotion authority, or fast-track, will be very important for us in order to make sure that we can fulfill our hopes to have a free-trading hemisphere. But we also can and will discuss bilateral agreements or agreements with groups of countries. So it's a dual-track strategy.

I hope Congress understands the hope and promise of trade promotion authority. It's important for the President to have trade promotion authority. It will make it a lot easier for us to complete the agreements that we're all discussing here in summits such as this.

Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Final question.

Q. Mr. President, when you met with the President of Brazil——

The President. You again.

Q. Yes, it's me again—and the other Andean leaders, were they—just following up on fast-track, the fact that you don't have fast-track, did they express that as a concern?

The President. Well, not really. They were more interested in, one, our commitment to the neighborhood. Secondly, they were—we spent a lot of time talking about drugs and drug trafficking, and I assured them I understood that our Nation must do a better job of reducing demand and, at the same time, working with the Andean nations to eradicate supply. An issue that came up, and one that I was aware of, is that Plan Colombia could have the opportunity to spread the problems to neighboring countries outside of Colombia. And therefore, we have to put together an Andean initiative which recognizes that and, thirdly, that relations are—that we must have relations beyond just drug eradication. In other words, that we've got to work together to make sure the education systems in our respective countries fulfill their promise, that legal reforms are needed in some parts of the world.

And so we had a very wide-ranging discussion, and I was most pleased, by the way, that the President of Brazil joined in the discussion, because it was—I thought it was a very good signal of his understanding the importance of the Andean region. And he plays a very—his country plays a very important part and a very important role in that part of the world.

Q. Thank you.

The President. You got your wish. [Laughter]

NOTE: The President spoke at 5 p.m. in the Montcalm Room at the Loews le Concorde Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Presidents Francisco Flores Perez of El Salvador, Mireya Moscoso of Panama, Carlos Flores of Honduras, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil. Prime Minister Said Wilbert Musa of Belize and Presidents Miguel Rodriguez of Costa Rica, Arnoldo Aleman of Nicaragua, and Alfonso Antonio Portillo of Guatemala also participated in the discussions. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

George W. Bush, Remarks Prior to Discussions With Central American Leaders and an Exchange With Reporters in Quebec City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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