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Obama seeks CEOs' help in Latin America

President Barack Obama talks with Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Joseph Thomas, front right, at Saturday’s arrival ceremony for the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. Obama is pushing more trade with Latin America.

Associated Press

President Barack Obama talks with Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Joseph Thomas, front right, at Saturday’s arrival ceremony for the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. Obama is pushing more trade with Latin America.

CARTAGENA, Colombia — Declaring that a new environment for cooperation exists in the Americas, President Barack Obama sought to convince U.S. business Saturday that he's serious about expanding trade in Latin America while persuading the region to look northward once again.

Obama dismissed some of the tensions in the region as remnants of the past. He said the discussions and press accounts sometimes make him feel like he is in a "time warp" of "gunboat diplomacy and yanquis and the Cold War and this and that" dating to a time before he was born.

"That's not the world we live in today," he said. "My hope is that we all recognize this enormous opportunity we've got."

But playing the persuader is not an easy task. The United States faces trade competition from China, resistance from labor at home, a set of difficult regional issues that could dilute any focus on trade, and now the distraction of Secret Service agents in Cartagena relieved of duty on allegations of misconduct.

The business session was the first ever associated with a Summit of the Americas and it included executives from Wal-Mart Stores Inc., PepsiCo, Yahoo and Caterpillar. Obama was joined on the stage at the forum by the host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

He complimented the governments of Colombia and Brazil for their remarkable economic growth, saying that they served as models for success in the region.

"When we look at how we're going to integrate further and take advantage of increased opportunity in the future its very important for us to not ignore how important it is to have a clean, transparent, open government that is working on behalf of its people," he said.

While U.S. exports in dollar amounts have increased in the Americas, its share of the market has declined over the past decade. China, in particular, is surpassing the United States as a trading partner with Brazil, Chile, and Peru.

In the United States, labor is restive over a trade deal with Colombia that is awaiting final certification. The Colombian government has worked to meet the requirements of a labor rights agreement that was a condition of passage in Congress last year. The question in Cartagena was whether Obama, over the objections of U.S. union leaders, would certify that Colombia successfully has met the terms.

Obama commended the trade deal with Colombia as a "win-win" for both countries, but was silent on its final implementation.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue, who was among the attendees, said in an interview Saturday that even if Obama did not take that step while in Cartagena, he would not consider that a setback and predicted final certification probably would come within weeks. He said Obama may not make a major announcement so as not to irritate allies who oppose the deal.

Trade could be eclipsed by other issues: the discussion over Cuba's exclusion from the summit; a call from Latin American countries to consider legalizing drugs; even Argentina's claims to the Falkland Islands.

U.S., Canada alone in Cuba stance

President Barack Obama was lectured once again by Western Hemisphere leaders Saturday in Cartagena, Colombia, over his insistence on vetoing Cuban participation in future summits, as well as his intransigence on abandoning a drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and undermined governments. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reiterated the message that nearly all his colleagues harped on: Drop attempts to isolate Cuba. "There is no justification for that path that has us anchored in a Cold War overcome now for several decades," Santos said, suggesting a change might encourage reforms on the communist-led island.

Associated Press

Obama seeks CEOs' help in Latin America 04/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 14, 2012 11:04pm]

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