The United states-Spain council, a group that promotes relations between the two countries, is holding its annual forum in Tampa this weekend. The keynote speaker to kick off the conference was US secretary of Commerce, Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez opened his speech by applauding the recent trip his boss, president Bush took to Iraq. He said the trip highlighted the progress made in that country.

ACT “We’ve already seen a great deal of progress by every measure..the economy has improved, unemployment is down…wages are rising..Iraq has a stable exchange rate..more companies registered to do business that before…31,000 companies registered...more companies on the stock exchange…internet and cell phone ..�

Gutierrez was introduced by Florida senator Mel Martinez, and he gave Martinez credit for pushing forward a proposal for immigration reform. He said a temporary worker program is necessary to feed the United States workforce.

ACT “If our unemployment was 10 percent, we would not be talking about immigration reform..we have a shortage of labor and we need to have labor from other countries coming in to keep our country growing..I appreciated business leaders making their voices heard.�

Gutierrez said that sending 12 million undocumented workers out of the country is not reasonable, and he disagrees with the characterization of President Bush’s, or Senator Martinez proposals as amounting to amnesty. He stressed that employer must be part of the solution to creating a legal system of immigration and temporary employment.

ACT “Employers need to be held accountable for the workers they hire by verifying workers status..hard to assume that they will be enforcement officers and help us enforce the law..�

Senator Martinez gave reporters his take on the current possibility of an immigration reform bill getting through congress anytime soon.

ACT-Martinez “There haws to be room for compromise, IN THIS SESSION. I don’t know, that’s a more open question, conferees need to be named…political reason..well see in the next few days..�

Turning to the crowd gathered, which included government and business leaders from throughout the US and Spain, Secretary of Commerce Gutierrez said that business relations between Spain and the US are growing but they could get much better.

ACT “Last year the US imported 8.6 billion from Spain, and 30% increase...US imports from Spain are pharm, mineral and machinery...value added products, we exported 7 billion and that’s a 17 % increase and the people are consuming higher levels of products..however we still have a tremendous amount of growth potential..per capita west central America 700, Chile 730, UK, 1000 Germany, Spain ..360 dollars..�

Gutierrez said that More than 600 US company’s employ about 200,000 workers in Spain, and he gave Spain credit for being the leading producer of bio-ethanol in the entire European Union. He also called on Spain has to join the US in pushing for social justice in Latin America, and asked for assistance in pushing forward the World trade Organizations agenda.

ACT “The other are where Spain's leadership can be useful is in the WTO talks..we are at a critical stage and we run the risk of having the talks collapse..Unprecedented prosperity, and we believe we have pt a bold proposal on the table but in order to do that, and be able to see that we will need reciprocal action from the EU, and to the extent that you can be influential this is an historic opportunity..�

ACT “We know that the best form of aid we can give developing countries is to do business with them we have theta opportunity and we should not let it slip away..�

After Gutierrez spoke, he along with Senator Martinez, and the United States ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, spoke to reporters. WMNF asked about a recent letter that 4 US senators sent to President Bush explaining that they were upset because a Spanish company is selling weapons to Venezuela, which under a new embargo is illegal for SU companies. At the same tie, that Spanish company is bidding for US military contracts. Senator Martinez responded first, followed by the US ambassador to Spain.

ACT-Martinez “One of the important opportunities is for the US and Spain to cooperate in Latin America, setting stage for economic well being. The Venezuelan situation is difficult, and nothing has completely transpired, and every country has their own relationships and we can’t expect complete hope is that is something that is not in the best interest..a more armed Chavez is a destabilizing force..�

ACT-Aguirre “Our issue about Venezuela, is about Venezuela, ships and airplanes, and we have not granted conveyance of technology, the airplanes will not be taking US technology, the ships it will take some times, hopefully by that time, there will be a different Venezuela to receive them..’

Ambassador Aguirre was also asked whether Spanish president Jose Luis Zapatero, will be in the white house anytime soon. Zapatero was elected 2 years ago, and soon after, followed through with a campaign promise to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. Questions have remained about the relationship between the two leaders, which Aguirre tried to smooth over.

ACT Aguirre “I think were measuring progress not by a photo op, but by cooperation..Rice visited, in other words our relationships are moving solidly..the mythical meeting is not part of my agenda..�

The US Spain Council annual meeting continues Saturday at the Tampa waterside Marriot.

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