DALLAS, N.C. -- President Bush portrayed an endangered free-trade treaty as another front in the global war on terrorism yesterday, suggesting that the Central America Free Trade Agreement was not only good for commerce but for shoring up fragile democracies in the region.
''It's in our interest that those democracies be strong and viable. There are still forces that oppose democratic government there," he said. ''There are forces that are hostile to our interests.
''It will help advance a key part of our foreign policy."
Bush made his pitch in a state where GOP support for the pact is weak, and with a visit to a textile plant, where critics suggest jobs could be jeopardized by the measure.
Bush suggested that the legislation, which passed the Senate earlier this month but faces a tough time in the House, would help bring more jobs to the United States, not send them fleeing.
''It's a pro-jobs bill. It's a pro-growth bill. It's a pro-democracy bill," Bush said.
Bush toured the R.L. Stowe Mills plant in nearby Belmont and stood among huge spools of white cotton thread and 480-pound bales of raw cotton. Then he appealed for the treaty's support in a speech to an invitation-only audience at Gaston College in Dallas.
''Get that bill to my desk," Bush said in remarks aimed at Congress.
The trade agreement, signed by the United States a year ago, would end or sharply lower trade barriers with the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. It would also apply to the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation.
House leaders have said they hope to bring up the measure before Congress breaks for its August recess. But it faces near-solid Democratic opposition and only lukewarm GOP support.
Bush's visit was to the district of Representative Sue Myrick, Republican of North Carolina, alone among the state's 13-member House delegation to publicly endorse the measure. She accompanied him on Air Force One.
Ahead of his visit, Bush met at the White House with President Antonio Saca of El Salvador, one of the countries that is a party to the trade agreement. The two leaders sat alongside each other in the Oval Office during a brief picture-taking session.
North Carolina is one of the hotbeds of opposition to the pact, which is modeled on the North American Free Trade Agreement passed 12 years ago that established free trade among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Critics contend that CAFTA will cost US jobs by making it easier for US companies to relocate operations in Central America, where labor costs are lower. The White House argues the opposite, asserting it will bring jobs to the United States.
Also, Bush suggested that stimulating the economies of Central America could also help reduce illegal immigration. Workers could ''find a job close at home, rather than sneak into the United States to find a job," he said.
The textile industry is divided on the pact.