Obama takes trade mission to Latin America

President Obama addresses the situation in Libya from the White House, March 18, 2011. CBS

President Obama addresses the situation in Libya from the White House, March 18, 2011.
CBS

As Japan teeters on the brink of nuclear disaster and the UN begins to enforce a no-fly-zone in Libya, President Obama will be monitoring these looming crises from abroad. He's on his way to South America, where he starts a five-day trip in Brazil Saturday morning.

"As we respond to these immediate crises abroad, we also will not let up in our efforts to tackle the pressing, ongoing challenges facing our country, including accelerating economic growth. That's why, over the weekend, I'll be in Latin America," said President Obama in his weekly radio address. "One of the main reasons for my trip is to strengthen economic partnerships abroad so that we create good jobs at home," he said.

The trip also takes him to Chile and El Salvador, that along with Brazil have seen strong economic growth in the past few years.

Brazil is the world's seventh largest economy and a growing trading partner with the U.S. Last year, as Brazil's economy grew 7.5 percent, demand for U.S. imports reached over $181 Billion, triple that of eight years ago. Brazil also has vast untapped reserves of oil that could be very lucrative for U.S. businesses.

Chile is the 24th largest trading partner with the U.S. and saw 5.2 percent economic growth in 2010. El Salvador's economy is expected to grow at 5.3 percent this year.

The White House estimates that over 300,000 American jobs are a direct result of trade with these countries.

"Today, Brazil imports more goods from the United States than from any other nation. And I'll be meeting with business leaders from both countries to talk about how we can create even more jobs by deepening these economic ties," said the President.

But with so much happening in the world, many are asking: is this trip at this time worth it?

Meredith Broadbent, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that the international conflicts make the trip a necessity.

"I believe because you're seeing high oil prices, you know enough disruptions in the Middle East, you're seeing the devastation in Japan, which is the second largest economy (not counting the U.S.), a huge consumer of U.S. products, a huge producer in global supply chain of electronics and a lot of sophisticated machinery. So there are enough disruptions out there and nurturing and tending to and caring to the positive relationships, is very important to do and time to do this. It may not get the headlines, but it's a valuable way to spend time," she said.

The President says it's all about the future. "What is clear is that in an increasingly global economy, our partnership with these nations is only going to become more vital. For it's a source of growth and prosperity - and not just for the people of Latin America, but for the American people as well," he said.

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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.

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