Obama cites potential of billion consumers in the Americas

By Laura MacInnis Updated at 2012-04-14 17:28:18 +0000

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CARTAGENA, Colombia (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama stressed on Saturday the "great promise" for business growth in the Americas, seeking to play up the economic heft of the region he has paid little attention to in his first three years in office.

In remarks prepared for a meeting of corporate chief executives in Cartagena, Colombia, where he is attending the 33-nation Summit of the Americas, Obama described U.S.-Latin American ties as "one of the world's most dynamic trade relationships."

"With nearly a billion citizens - nearly a billion consumers - among us, there's so much more we can do together," according to excerpts of his speech released by the White House.

"For the Americas, this is a moment of great promise. And I believe if we seize the opportunities before us, we'll continue to be each other's economic partners of choice," he was set to tell the gathering of CEOs on Saturday morning, which precedes the formal start of the regional leaders' summit.

Among the companies represented at the CEO gathering were Pfizer Inc, Chevron, Pepsico and Cisco Systems Inc.

Obama, a Democrat running for re-election in November, is under pressure in Colombia to show he is committed to engaging with Latin America and is addressing regional issues including drug trafficking and violence.

His critics - including many pivotal Hispanic voters in the United States - have accused him of largely neglecting Washington's neighbors to concentrate on crises in the Middle East and Afghanistan and on an effort to boost U.S. trade ties with fast-growing Asia.

On his way to Colombia on Friday, Obama gave a speech at a shipping port in Tampa, Florida, on the ways U.S. businesses and workers can benefit from increased trade with Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

Florida, with its large Hispanic population, is expected to be an electoral battleground on November 6 and Latino voters could also make or break Obama's re-election chances in swing states including Nevada, Colorado and Virginia.

Polls show the president well ahead of Mitt Romney - the presumed Republican nominee for the White House race - among Latino voters despite concerns about his lack of attention to Latin American issues and disappointment about his failure to produce the broad immigration reform he promised in 2008.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; Editing by Eric Beech and Vicki Allen)