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Democracy, trade stressed for poor nations


WASHINGTON - President Bush, meeting here with the leaders of five African nations, said yesterday that democratic reforms and free trade are the best ways to help poor nations.

Saturday, the world's wealthiest nations announced that they would cancel at least $40 billion of debt owed to international agencies by the world's poorest countries, most of them in Africa.

The Group of 8 - the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia - agreed that the best solution to poor countries' indebtedness is to cancel their debt burden rather than ease it by taking over interest repayments.

Speaking yesterday as he stood alongside the presidents of Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia and Niger, Bush seemed to suggest that economic stability and growth must go hand in hand with political reforms.

"All the presidents gathered here represent countries that have held democratic elections in the last year," Bush said. "What a strong statement that these leaders have made about democracy and the importance of democracy on the continent of Africa.

"All of us share a fundamental commitment to advancing democracy and opportunity on the continent of Africa, and all of us believe that one of the most effective ways to advance democracy and deliver hope to the people of Africa is through mutually beneficial trade."

Bush devoted most of his remarks during his appearance at the Executive Office Building, next to the White House, to hailing the successes of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which Congress approved in 2000.

The act reduced or eliminated taxes and quotas on more than 1,800 items imported from some African countries, and Bush said yesterday that exports from those nations to the United States last year were up 88 percent compared with 2003 exports.

The agreement requires participating countries to show that they are progressing toward market-based economies, protection of workers' rights and policies that will reduce poverty.

"We have opened our markets, and people are now making goods that the United States consumers want to buy," Bush said. "And that's helpful. That's how you spread wealth. That's how you encourage hope and opportunity."

He said U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa were up 25 percent last year.

"In other words, this is a two-way street," he said. "Not only have folks in Africa benefited by selling products in the United States, American businesses, small and large, have benefited through the opening of the African market as well."

Bush said the agreement announced Saturday will benefit nations "that have put themselves on the path to reform."

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