CAFTA Supporters Gain Some Votes

The Associated Press
Monday, July 25, 2005; 8:16 PM

WASHINGTON -- Supporters of the Central American Free Trade Agreement on Monday picked up votes from several textile-state Republicans, but were still hedging on whether they would have a majority when the trade deal comes up for a vote in the House.

"We're getting to the point where we will have the votes," U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said a news conference announcing concessions aimed at ensuring that CAFTA will not result in a further loss of jobs to the battered U.S textile industry.

With the concessions, three House Republicans who had previously leaned against the pact, Spencer Bachus and Mike Rogers of Alabama and Bob Inglis of South Carolina, said they would now support it.

With the side deal on textiles, CAFTA will help Alabama and the United States, Bachus said. "Additional uncommitted members are realizing this as well and are coming aboard."

The House could vote on the free trade agreement with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic as early as Wednesday. The Senate approved the accord, signed more than a year ago, last month on a 54-45 vote.

The House vote has enormous political stakes for both sides. The Bush administration has campaigned relentlessly for CAFTA's passage, saying its defeat would undermine political stability in the region and would be a blow to the United States as it seeks to negotiate far larger efforts to open international markets.

Democrats are nearly united against it, arguing that the pact will lead to further losses of U.S. jobs and the exploitation of workers in Central America.

Under the side agreement on textiles, a loophole is closed to assure that China and other Asian suppliers will not be able to displace U.S. companies as suppliers of pocketing and lining for Central American manufacturers. Nicaragua would also be required to buy increased amounts of U.S. trouser fabric.

The National Council of Textile Organizations, which previously came out in support of CAFTA, said the deal on pockets, which requires congressional action, would save the industry $100 million. It noted that apparel imported to the U.S. from CAFTA countries has on average more than 70 percent U.S. content, while apparel from China has less than one percent U.S. content.

The House is also to vote Tuesday on a bill to increase monitoring of China's compliance with its trade obligations, fulfilling another promise to lawmakers undecided on CAFTA on the grounds that the United States is not doing enough to enforce trade laws.


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