Bush staunchly defends free trade in farewell
AFP - 11 minutes ago
LIMA (AFP) - - US President George W. Bush, bidding farewell to the international stage, on Saturday offered a sweeping defense of free trade, demanding the world resist protectionism during the financial turmoil.
Bush and 20 other leaders from the Pacific rim were holding talks in Peru at the tightly guarded military headquarters, where two decades earlier troops tortured suspected leftist sympathizers.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which accounts for half of world trade, was expected to call for a loosening of trade restrictions in hopes of giving a much-needed boost to the ailing global economy.
Bush was holding final meetings with other leaders and was bracing for a potentially tense summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who was launching a defiant tour across Latin America.
Staunchly defending his often controversial eight-year presidency as he prepares to hand over to Barack Obama, Bush summed up his philosophy as "free markets, free trade and free people."
"I believe there is an Almighty and I believe a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth is freedom," Bush said in an address on his final foreign trip as president.
A smiling Bush, peppering his remarks with Spanish, conceded that recent events showed that governments must sometimes intervene in markets.
The Bush administration led a 700 billion-dollar bailout of Wall Street in hopes the US economy would rebound from its worst crisis since the Great Depression.
"Yet it is also essential that nations resist the temptation to overcorrect by imposing regulations that would stifle innovation and choke off growth," Bush said. "The verdict of history is unmistakable."
He vowed to press hard in his final two months in office to break a deadlock in World Trade Organization negotiations, a pledge made by 20 world leaders last week in Washington for a summit on the financial turmoil.
"We refuse to accept protectionism in the 21st century," Bush said emphatically.
Despite massive job cuts and plummeting growth rates across the world, Bush predicted that capitalism would eventually be vindicated.
"Recovering from the financial crisis is going to take time, but we'll recover, and in so doing begin a new era of prosperity," he said.
Obama, despite his wild popularity around much of the world, has sparked concerns among some Asian leaders that he would take the United States in a protectionist direction.
"Nations must not regress toward protectionism by citing the current financial crisis," said President Lee Myung-Bak of South Korea, whose currency has been hammered in recent weeks.
"Protectionism begets more protectionism and results in a further slowdown of the global economy," Lee said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gently chided other major economies that have intervened to prop up businesses and markets.
"As necessary as such actions may be in some countries, there should be a plan to unwind this kind of direct participation by governments in the banking business over the long term," Harper said.
But Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono set his sights on oil-rich states and companies, saying they should help poor people hit by the economic crisis after reaping in profits until recently from sky-high energy prices.
"With this great wealth should also come a moral duty," Yudhoyono said.
Bush was due later to meet with Medvedev. He also held a joint summit with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak .
During the talks, Bush promised Aso that the United States would "hold the North Koreans to account" for abducted Japanese nationals, and told the South Korean leader that US-South Korea free trade deal has stalled in the US Congress because of an anti-trade "backlash," the White House said.
The summit with the Asian powers also focused on ways to give a push to a six-nation deal to end North Korea's nuclear program, one area where Bush has held out hope for a last-minute success.
Medvedev is launching a four-nation tour of Latin America, traditionally Washington's sphere of influence. Russia's relations with the United States have rapidly deteriorated in recent months in part over Washington's plans to place a missile defense shield in former Soviet bloc nations.
But Bush had a more friendly farewell meeting Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who thanked the president for improving relations between the Pacific powers and invited him to visit China after leaving office.
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