President Barack Obama commended Panama's president for his leadership in resolving issues that had stalled a key free trade agreement between their two countries and said he expected Congress to ratify the pact as part of a broader trade package.
Obama says he was confident that the deal would be good for the economy in both the U.S. and Panama. He spoke in the Oval Office alongside President Ricardo Martinelli.
Later, Martinelli told The Associated Press that Obama expressed hope that the treaty would be ratified before Congress adjourns in August.
"We are confident now that a free trade agreement would be good for our country, would create jobs here in the United States, open up new markets with potential for billions of dollars of cross-border trade," Obama said. "We think it would be also very good for Panama and allow additional economic exchanges between our two countries."
The Panama agreement is one of three trade pacts the Obama administration intends to send to Congress. The other two are with Colombia and South Korea.
The U.S.-Panama deal was completed this month after the Panamanian government signed off on a provision to deter would-be tax evaders from using banks in the Central American country as tax havens.
Obama also said Panama would be a key partner in regional security and the promotion of democracy in Latin America.
"Panama has been one of the leaders that we've worked with in trying to roll back the incursion of the drug cartels into the region," Obama said.
Associated Press writer Luis Alonso Lugo contributed to this report.