Senate Approves CAFTA

The Frontrunner

The US Senate last night approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by a 54-45 margin. The vote is being described this morning as a significant win for President Bush, though the treaty still faces an uncertain fate in the House. The New York Times (7/1, A1, Andrews) calls the Senate vote "a major victory for President Bush at a time when Republicans and Democrats alike have been alarmed about soaring imports from low-cost countries." The vote "set the stage for an even more difficult fight in the House, where opposition to the trade pact is strong among lawmakers from textile regions in the South, manufacturing states in the Midwest and sugar- producing areas like Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota and Wyoming." Knight Ridder (7/1, Kuhnhenn) refers to "a solid victory" for Bush "despite fears within his party about the domestic consequences of the pact." The "bipartisan 54-45 vote" in the Senate "belies a much more difficult road in the House of Representatives."

The Washington Times (7/1, Sparshott) says the House "likely will vote on the deal after July 11."

The AP (7/1, Abrams) reports Bush, in a statement released by the White House after the vote, "said the agreement was 'good for American workers, good for our farmers and good for small businesses.' 'The agreement is also a strong boost for young democracies in our own hemisphere, whose success is important for America's national security and for reducing illegal immigration,' Bush said." The Bush Administration, the AP notes, "has never lost a trade battle in Congress."

Reuters (7/1, Palmer) reports "ten Democrats and one Independent joined 43 Republicans in voting for the pact. Twelve Republicans -- many from sugar and textile-producing states -- voted against CAFTA, despite White House efforts to sell the pact as strategically important."

The Washington Post (7/1, D5, Blustein) says that "because the economies of those Latin nations are so small, the accord's impact on the U.S. economy would be minimal." But "it is seen as a bellwether of US willingness to enter into new trade agreements. The countries involved are much poorer than other nations, such as Australia and Singapore, which also have free-trade deals with the United States." They also "have dismal records on protecting their workers. Democrats have denounced the deal for offering inadequate provisions on labor rights." USA Today (7/1, Kirchhoff) adds that "to win passage, the White House promised hundreds of millions of dollars to monitor CAFTA labor standards and help the region's farmers, and more aid to US sugar growers. US sugar producers, currently protected by import tariffs, oppose the deal."

The Wall Street Journal (7/1, Hitt) adds Senate approval "came after Mr. Bush made personal appeals for support and Bush aides struck a series of last-minute deals. Among other things, the administration agreed to boost support for labor-rights enforcement in the signatory nations and pledged to ensure increased sugar imports to the US won't undermine domestic prices." The Administration also "agreed to study the feasibility of using sugar to produce ethanol." Vice President Cheney "stressed that point in a radio interview aired in portions of North Dakota and Minnesota, two major sugar-beet states."

Labor Department's Condemnation Of Rights Fund Report Criticized.

The New York Times (7/1, Forero) reports that "as the White House lobbied Congress to win support for a Central American trade pact, the United States Labor Department tried for more than a year to block the release of reports that harshly criticized labor standards in the region." The reports, "by a labor advocacy group, the International Labor Rights Fund, were commissioned by the Labor Department, and concluded that working conditions in five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic were dismal, and that enforcement of labor laws was weak." In a statement Thursday, "the Labor Department called the findings biased and flawed. Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman for the department's Bureau of International Labor Affairs, said the study was 'rife with unsubstantiated and unverifiable claims, questionable statistical data, and biased statements of findings and conclusions.'" The Labor Department's "condemnation drew a quick rebuke from Senator Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat. 'The reports describe labor conditions that would be harmful, not helpful, for passage of Cafta,' he said, referring to the Central American Free Trade Agreement. 'So they decided to deep-six it.'" Rep. Sander Levin "said the Labor Department should have permitted lawmakers to review the reports and make up their own minds."