San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. Vote on Trade Pact Goes Beyond This Region

U.S. congressional discussion of theCentral American Free-Trade Agreementwith the United States (CAFTA) is not justabout getting more Kraft cheese singles onMás x Menos shelves, or fear thatSalvadoran textile workers may take jobsout of the hands of U.S. citizens.The trade pact apparently representssomething larger in the United States.It is the first up to congressional bat ina long line of trade agreements negotiatedby former U.S. trade representative RobertZoellick during the first term of U.S.President George W. Bush.Its success is being viewed by many inthe United States as the litmus test forthose that follow.“CAFTA is hugely important beyond itstrade… it has symbolic importance. If itdoes not pass, it will put a chill, not just onU.S.-negotiated agreements with othercountries, but on everything negotiatedduring Doha round (of the World TradeOrganization). For this administration, thestakes are very high,” said DanielGriswold, director for the Center for TradePolicy Studies at the Cato Institute.CAFTA is considered the first in a newgeneration of agreements, which, in additionto the normal trade and investment,cover intellectual property rights, environmentand labor standards.U.S. trade pacts waiting in the wings,at various stages of negotiation, includeMorocco, Bahrain, Botswana, Namibia,South Africa and Swaziland.Considering this is the “biggest legislativetrade issue of the year,” Griswold saidhe believes the Bush administration will bewilling to expend the political capital to getCAFTA passed.This may prove to be a challenge.Most insiders agree the U.S. House ofRepresentatives will be the main battlegroundfor the trade pact’s ratification, asthe Senate is typically more trade-friendly,Griswold said.“There’s a growing resistance to internationaltrade in this country, and it’sfrankly driven mostly by concerns aboutwhat’s going on with the Asian countries,China in particular,” added Hank Cox, vicepresidentfor media relations for theNational Association of Manufacturers.“We’ll be locked in a major political battleover the next couple of months,” headded.

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