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The United States must move quickly to expand trade and secure its place in Latin America's roaring economy, President Clinton said today.

"None of us can shut the world down or pretend somehow that we can compete in the global economy by closing ourselves off from our neighbors," Clinton said.

In a breakfast speech before American and Argentine business leaders, the president stressed the advantages of developing strong commercial ties. U.S. firms are the leading investors in Argentina, with $12 billion in investments that are increasing at more than $2 billion per year.

The United States, Clinton said, cannot afford to react to such growth by taking a protectionist stance. "The world economy -- whether any government likes it or not -- is already on a fast track," he said.

His speech, the last of his official business on a weeklong tour of South America, made for one final long-distance sales pitch to U.S. lawmakers, who can withhold the "fast-track" negotiating authority Clinton wants for hammering out a hemispheric free-trade zone.

In a country where more than 800 cases of violence, threats or intimidation against journalists were documented this year, Clinton also met today with four Argentine reporters.

Michael D. McCurry, White House spokesman, said Clinton talked about the importance of "a free and vigorous press" and reiterated his earlier suggestion to Argentine President Carlos Menem for an ombudsman to handle journalists' complaints.

After a stop at the U.S. Embassy here, Clinton departed for San Carlos de Bariloche, a tourist town nestled on the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains. He and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will unwind there with Menem and depart for Washington Saturday night.

In comments after a televised, regional town hall forum Thursday, Clinton suggested the United States might ease its tough stand against Cuba if Fidel Castro's Marxist regime signaled a willingness to change. The U.S. government has imposed a tough economic embargo against Cuba for more than three decades and tightened it last year.

Thursday night, Menem presented Clinton two Criollo horses, named Gato and Mancha, as an official gift marking Clinton's state visit.

The horses were described as being from the same stock as two horses presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and descendants of the horses used by the Spanish conquerors.

Clinton must have known the gift was coming, because he earlier referred to the value of a horse during his toast at a state dinner.

"Mr. president, like you, I am from a small, rural state where some people value their horse more than their automobile," he said. There was no word on what the Clintons planned to do with the horses. They are fond of horseback riding.

Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, delivered a wide-ranging discourse on feminism Thursday to a crowd of some of Argentina's best-educated and best-connected women, telling her audience that "access to quality health care -- especially family planning and reproductive health services -- is crucial to advancing the progress of women."

That line, which drew the most sustained applause of her speech, clearly struck a chord in a nation that is more than 90 percent Catholic and where abortion laws, while among the most liberal in Latin America, are much more restrictive than in the United States or Western Europe.

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