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Mending fences, not building them

President Bush smiles during an arrival ceremony with Mexican President Felipe Calderon at Hacienda Temozon, in Temozon Sur, Mexico, on March 13, 2007.

KAI RYSSDAL: President Bush has been talking free trade during his swing through Latin America. He's in Mexico today for meetings with President Felipe Calderon, where the conversation's turned to immigration reform. Mending fences, not building them. And finding ways to make Mexican workers want to stay at home. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech has more.


DAN GRECH: President Calderon said last week he will quadruple the number of loans given to small businesses.

The loans are tiny: $115 each on average. But they can help entrepreneurs start small stores, street stands or workshops. Seventy percent of jobs in Mexico City are in family-run businesses.

Ahead of his visit, President Bush announced a similar small-business loan initiative for the region.

GEORGE W. BUSH:Flourishing business provide jobs for people at home. They provide customers for U.S. products.

DAN GRISWOLD: To me those initiatives are more symbolism than substance.

That's Dan Griswold with the Cato Institute. He says micro-loans won't do much to free up a Mexican economy ossified by oligopolies and unions.

GRISWOLD: They haven't really fostered an entrepreneurial society with bottom-up grassroots growth. And I think the president's initiative is aimed at that. Really there isn't much we can do here in the United States other than keep our economy open to trade with Mexico.

George Grayson of the College of William and Mary says there are other problems.Red tape and government officials on the take.

GEORGE GRAYSON: You run the gauntlet of bureaucrats, many of whom have sticky fingers extended in your direction. That's not only a time-consuming process, it can be an extremely expensive and frustrating process.

President Calderon has convinced 220 towns and cities to start granting new business permits within three days.

I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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