- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said yesterday he will oppose the Central American Free Trade Agreement, marking the first time he will have voted against a free-trade agreement after 20 years of supporting them in Congress.

The Massachusetts senator said the new agreement, which the United States and five Central American nations signed yesterday, does not have enough rules to protect the environment or workers’ rights in the other nations.

“As now constructed, CAFTA would actually make the current situation worse because it would take away a strong tool to help address violations of core labor standards that is now included in our current system of trade preferences for Central America,” Mr. Kerry said.

Republicans said Mr. Kerry’s position should be viewed as just another election-year flip-flop, tailored to win particular voters.

“He was for free trade before he was against it,” said Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the Bush campaign.

Mr. Kerry voted for NAFTA in 1993; voted in 1994 for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which established the WTO; twice, in 1997 and 2002, voted for “fast track” trade authority; and voted in 2000 for Permanent Normalized Trade Relations (PNTR) with China.

Last year he missed votes on agreements with Singapore and Chile, just one week after Teamsters President James P. Hoffa Jr. threatened to withhold support from presidential candidates who voted for the measure.

Mr. Kerry’s Senate office did not return a call for comment.

On the campaign trail yesterday Mr. Kerry continued his theme of attacking Mr. Bush’s national security policy, telling veterans in Green Bay, Wis., that the Bush administration has “made America less safe, not more safe, with their blustery, arrogant foreign policy.”

Also yesterday his campaign announced a new $18 million blitz of ads, including Spanish-language ads and commercials aimed at black voters. The campaign said it will also air ads in Virginia, a state that has voted Republican in 12 of the last 13 presidential elections.

In his statement on free-trade yesterday, Mr. Kerry acknowledged he was breaking with his consistent support for free trade agreements, but blamed Mr. Bush for not pushing worker and environmental protections that President Clinton pursued in his administration.

“In the 1990s, that progress included the free trade agreement with Jordan, which included strong and enforceable labor and environmental provisions in the core of the agreement,” he said of the pact.

Unions have argued that American workers suffer from free-trade agreements because industries in other nations can undercut U.S. companies, which have to meet U.S. environmental and labor standards. All of the Democratic candidates for president promised to support stricter agreements that force other nations to improve environmental and labor standards, which would make companies in those nations less competitive with American companies.

But one business lobbyist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said at the same time Mr. Kerry is publicly opposing these agreements, his surrogates are giving “a wink and a nod to K street” business lobbyists.

“What you have with John Kerry is he’s trying to have it both ways,” the lobbyist said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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