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CAFTA passes in the Senate

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CAFTA passes in the Senate
Friday, July 1, 2005, 1:01 AM

by Josh St. Peters

Despite a full day of polarized debate, members of the U.S. Senate made headway with one foreign trade issue Thursday, passing the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The bipartisan vote of 54 to 45 means the trade deal now falls in the lap of House members, who must make the vote to enact the proposal.

It took the Senate all day Thursday to sort through divided opinions surrounding the White House-negotiated plan to liberalize trade with six countries in Latin America. Debate on the issue began early in the day, with the roll call vote being staved off by floor discussion until well after nightfall in Washington.

The President wrapped up negotiations with the participating trade countries earlier this year, but CAFTA was stalled along the road to authorization by groups who claim the trade will hurt U.S. industries. The Bush Administration was said to be lobbying very hard on Capitol Hill, right up until the day of the Senate vote, hoping to solidify the votes need to move CAFTA through Congress.

Some commodity and consumer groups have argued it will unfairly allow the trade partners to import sugar into the states, hurting business for U.S. growers. Unions and textile groups also argue the plan is bad business for North America. Many of the opposition organizations have pointed to flaws in Central American policies on work conditions. As part of an attempted compromise, President Bush has said he will work to enforce labor laws in that part of the world.

Meanwhile, other agricultural and business groups have celebrated the pending trade agreement. Some livestock and grain associations expect the plan will give them new access to a relatively untested marketplace in Central America. Business groups have also pushed for the deal, as it eliminates most export tariffs on goods shipped into the participating nations.

The House debate is predicted to be much of the same arguments, as bipartisan lines are drawn between the supporters and those who oppose the plan. With more votes to be cast, some policy watchers have indicated that it may be an even tougher battle for the Administration to get approval from the House.

Senate action on CAFTA came amidst an active week on Capitol Hill, as Congress has been working to wrap up a variety of issues before taking a week-long break for the Independence Day holiday.


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