President Bush Speaks at Free-Trade Conference Cosponsored by UM

In his speech, President George W. Bush urged the passage of free-trade agreements.

Urging congressional approval of free-trade pacts with Peru, Panama, and Colombia, President George W. Bush gave a speech Friday to more than 500 people at the Radisson Hotel in Miami as part of a free-trade conference cosponsored by the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy (CHP).

Passage of the agreements would level the economic playing field for businesses and farmers in the United States while at the same time lifting millions in the hemisphere out of poverty, Bush said to the audience, which included members of the business and trade communities.

“When trade expands, American workers gain,” the president said. “People around the world want to buy products that say ‘Made in the U.S.A.’”

Bush noted that many U.S. products that are shipped overseas face stiff tariffs and that passage of the agreements would help eliminate that trend.

His speech followed a one-hour panel discussion on “Trade and Prosperity in the Americas." The conference was cosponsored by the CHP, an academic think tank on issues critical to the hemisphere, and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

The panel discussion was largely an endorsement of the pending trade agreements, with all the participants voicing their approval and reasons why ratification of the pacts would be mutually beneficial to the U.S. and Latin America.

The agreements would help the United States “create a partnership of free markets and cement the country’s economic relationship with the rest of the world,” said Jose Antonio Villamil, CEO of the Washington Economics Group, Inc. and one of five panelists.

CHP Director Susan Kaufman Purcell was a member of the conference panel.

The trade pacts, if passed, would also make it easier for Latin America to sustain democratic governments, would facilitate higher levels of economic growth and prosperity in the region, and help the United States gain access to new sources of energy and raw materials that are abundant in Latin America, said CHP Director Susan Kaufman Purcell.

Purcell lauded the conference, calling it the most important event staged by the CHP since its founding in 2005. UM President Donna E. Shalala, under whose administration the CHP was created, was in attendance at the event.

Other panel members included Jorge L. Arrizurieta, host committee chair of the Inter-American Development Bank, Miami 2008; Brian C. Dean, executive director of the Florida Free Trade Area of the Americas, Inc.; and Simon Ferro, former U.S. Ambassador to Panama. Charles E. Cobb, chair of the Florida Free Trade Area of the Americas, Inc. and a former chair of UM’s Board of Trustees, moderated the panel.

Thirty-four UM students attended the conference and Bush’s speech. They included student representatives from UM’s Young College Republicans, Student Government, the School of Law Student Association, the Graduate Student Association, and Miller School Student Council. Dozens of other UM students volunteered at the event, serving as greeters and ushers and issuing credentials to invited guests. Many worked side by side with White House staff.

For many, it was their first time seeing a sitting U.S. president in person.

“Being a citizen of Miami and the world, I felt it was important to be here,” said Armen Shaomian, a doctoral student at the Frost School of Music and former president of the Graduate Student Association. “I want to keep informed about what’s going on with the free-trade talks, and today was extremely informative, especially with regard to the panel discussion.”

Student Government President Danny Carvajal felt Bush addressed issues that are close to his heart. “Being a Cuban-American, he addressed topics that really hit close to home for me,” Carvajal said, noting the president’s reference to a desire to see a free and democratic Cuba. “I'm glad I came.”