LIMA, Peru — President George W. Bush, attending his final global summit at a time of severe financial crisis, urged other countries on Saturday not to repeat mistakes that turned a similar calamity seven decades ago into the Great Depression.
He said that nations should spurn calls to erect protectionist trade barriers and keep pushing to liberalize trade.
“One of the enduring lessons of the Great Depression is that global protectionism is a path to global economic ruin,” Bush said in comments to business executives of Pacific Rim countries.
Bush was in Lima to attend his eighth and final meeting of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Bush said he understands that countries are being hurt by the financial crisis, which started in the United States. But he said that because the economic problems are so widespread, all nations both developed and developing nations must work together to find solutions.
He warned that it’s also essential that nations resist the “temptation to overcorrect” to fix the fiscal crisis. Bush has argued that it would be a mistake to over-regulate financial markets, saying what is needed is better regulation not more regulation.
“Recovering from the financial crisis is going to take time, but we’ll recover and so begin a new era of economic prosperity,” Bush declared.
Bush was hoping to use his final APEC summit to get endorsement of a sweeping action plan to attack the global financial crisis that was drafted last week in Washington at a meeting of the Group of 20 nations, which include the world’s richest economies plus major developing nations such as China, Brazil, India and Russia. Nine of the countries at the G-20 meeting are also members of APEC.
Bush said that the APEC meeting could send a message that “we refuse to accept protectionism in the 21st century.”
The two-day summit was taking place following another bad week for financial markets as investors became more fearful about the prospects of a deepening global recession.
Bush said that when he took office, the United States had free trade agreements in effect with only three countries but now has free trade agreements in force with 14 nations. It is “extremely disappointing” that Congress just adjourned without passing three pending deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, Bush said to hearty applause.
Bush also said it was important for nations to push ahead to complete global free trade talks known as the Doha Round. The APEC countries are expected to endorse a pledge to complete a framework for the Doha talks by the end of December.
These discussions, which began seven years, ago have been stalled for some time by disputes between rich and poor nations over farm trade and barriers to manufactured goods.
In addition to addressing the economic crisis, Bush used his discussions in Lima to provide renewed impetus to an effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. North Korea has balked at allowing inspectors to take samples from its main nuclear complex.
Bush hopes to use his discussions later in the day with the leaders of Japan, South Korea and Russia to lock in an early December date when all six parties, including North Korea, will meet in China. The goal would be to get agreement on the verification of North Korea’s nuclear declaration and disabling of its nuclear facilities.
In the morning, he met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and joked about his “forced retirement” on Jan. 20 when President-elect Barack Obama takes office. During talks on Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Bush admitted that he “felt a little nostalgic” that it would be their last meeting as heads of state.
The end of his presidency was on his mind as he closed his speech too. Bush reached back to the seminal moment of his eight years in office: the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Bush noted instances from that time more than seven years ago when people in many of the nations represented at this weekend’s summit expressed their solidarity with the newly attacked United States.
He recalled American flags flying from fire trucks in Montreal, Canada; baseball players in Japan observing moments of silence; children kneeling at the U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea; and a sign unfurled at a candlelight vigil in Beijing that read “Freedom and justice will not be stopped.”
“When I attended my first APEC summit in Shanghai just a few weeks after September the 11th 2001, I said that America would always remember the signs of support from our friends in the region,” he said. “The bonds of unity we felt then remain today, and they will always remain, long after this crisis has passed.”