- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2005

The Bush administration and House allies are cobbling together support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement ahead of a too-close-to-call vote on the pact scheduled for this week.

The Republican leadership plans a get-tough vote on China today meant to win CAFTA votes, while the administration intensely is lobbying individual lawmakers to vote in favor of the pact.

CAFTA would lower tariffs and set investment rules for the United States, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The China bill would allow U.S. companies to win protection if they can show that China is unfairly subsidizing its exports, monitor China’s compliance with trade rules and step up enforcement against trade rule violations.

“Anything in the right direction on China is probably helpful on CAFTA,” Rep. Phil English, Pennsylvania Republican, told the Associated Press.

Mr. English insisted the China bill come up for a vote before swinging in favor of CAFTA. The bill would be considered under special rules that require two-thirds support and still could be delayed.

Separately, an administration initiative on textiles paid off yesterday when three textile-state Republicans said they would support CAFTA after the U.S. Trade Representative’s office pledged to close loopholes that would have allowed China to ship fabric to the United States via Central America. The loophole would have hurt U.S. manufacturers.

“I think we have gotten some real improvement in the agreement,” said Republican Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, flanked by Republican Reps. Spencer Bachus and Mike D. Rogers of Alabama.

The administration also has promised to protect the sugar industry and to spend more on labor rights. Republican leaders also have suggested that support for CAFTA would translate into spending for individual districts.

CAFTA opponents, however, are just as adamant that the agreement not pass and question the administration’s tactics to win votes.

“CAFTA can’t pass on its merits,” said Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat.

The trade deal’s critics also are warning lawmakers that the administration may not fulfill the pledges it makes ahead of the vote.

“No one gets paid up front. This is just a wing-and-a-prayer type of pledge,” said Lloyd Wood, spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.

Mr. Wood specifically referred to yesterday’s announcement on textiles, but also said that promises made to win votes on previous trade agreements have not always been fulfilled.

Public Citizen, an advocacy group that opposes CAFTA, last month released a report documenting promises made for trade vote support since 1992.

“Of the past policy promises designed to put a gloss on a contested agreement and give political cover to members of Congress, just seven were kept and 56 broken,” Public Citizen said.

Underscoring the importance of individual votes, organized labor in a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, yesterday threatened to withhold financial support from three Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns if they vote for CAFTA.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Teachers, Teamsters and other unions singled out Democratic Reps. Melissa Bean of Illinois, Jim Matheson of Utah and Dennis Moore of Kansas because unions think they are undecided or leaning in favor of CAFTA.

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