President George W. Bush delivered the following remarks during a meeting with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos on April 16, 2001, in Washington, DC. Bush took questions related to potential free trade agreements and military equipment sales.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I’m very honored to welcome the President of Chile here to the Oval Office. Chile is a remarkable country. It’s a country that is a strong democracy that has shown people in this hemisphere the importance of rule of law. I look forward to renewing a friendship with the President.
I also look forward to talking about free trade. I’m confident that by the time this year is over we will conclude a free trade agreement with Chile. It’s in our nation’s best interest to do so. And, finally, I think some members of Congress could take a good — could take some lessons from Chile, particularly when it comes to how to run our pension plans. Our Social Security system needs to be modernized, Mr. President, and I look forward to getting some suggestions as to how to do so, since you have done so, so well.
But anyway, I welcome you to our country. And thank you very much for being here.
PRESIDENT LAGOS: I would like to take this opportunity and I would like to say that I agree with the President that our team has to work hard, very hard, in order to be able to conclude an agreement by the end of the year. And this is so, I’m sure, that the shared investment in our countries are going to increase for the benefit of our population, in order to give equal opportunities to everybody.
We have common shares and common goals. Not only common interests, but common shares and values with the U.S., in democracy, respect to human rights, a market economy. And we are trying to do the best to have equal opportunities for everybody. And I think that these are the major goals for your administration, our administration. And we have to work in that direction. I’m sure that the trade agreement, if we are able to conclude, is going to be important to go in this direction. Thank you.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, Mr. President.
Q Mr. President, thank you, sir.
PRESIDENT BUSH: The ground rules are a question from the American side and then a question from the Chilean side.
Q Sir, last August, when you were a candidate, you said in Miami that, “When the next President sits at the American Summit, other nations must know that fast track trade authority is on the way.” Why are you going to Quebec with no promise of fast track authority, and are you willing to compromise with Democrats to get it?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I’d certainly like to have what they call fast track authority. It would — most presidents have had it. It’s important for the President to fight for the right to be able to negotiate trade agreements without amendment. I believe we’re making progress toward regaining that power for the President.
In the meantime, we can negotiate a bilateral treaty with Chile. It’s a separate issue. I’m confident we can get it done, Mr. President. Ambassador Zoellick is here. Ambassador Zoellick and the rest of my administration are committed to not only having a good trade agreement with Chile, but also giving the President the trade promotion authority. And we’ll discuss ways to get it out of the Congress when the Congress gets back.
I had a meeting with the leadership on both sides of the aisle to talk about trade promotion authority. I believe we can get — I believe we can get it done. It’s going to require a lot of hard work and effort to do so.
Q Are you willing to compromise to do it, sir?
PRESIDENT BUSH: See, what happens here in American politics, Mr. President, is people are always trying to get me to put my cards on the table. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT LAGOS: That’s the same down there, you know? (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: That happens in Chile, too? (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, Chile is looking to buy F-16 planes to the United States, to modernize their army. What do you think of the sales of sophisticated arms to Latin America? Are you willing to support the requests of Chile?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I’m willing to discuss this matter with the President. I look forward to this being on the agenda that we’re about to have. And we will listen to any request that our friends in our hemisphere make. I will tell you this, I am confident that Chile is a peaceful nation. I’m confident that they’re a democracy that’s — that intends to make the world more peaceful. And that’s a good place to begin our discussion.
Thank you, all.