Now House has its turn

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOT

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), one of Washington, DC’s most powerful trade associations and the nation’s largest industrial trade association in the United States, applauded the US Senate just before lawmakers broke for the Fourth of July holiday weekend for passing the US- Central America/Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA/DR).

CAFTA/DR now heads to the US House of Representatives for their vote. The House is expected to vote on the measure later this summer, prior to the Congressional recess in August. NAM is urging the House to quickly follow the Senate’s example and pass the FTA. According to NAM officials, CAFTA/DR would level the playing field for US manufacturers, boost exports and create jobs.

“Most Central American and Dominican products have had free access to America’s market since the early 1980s,” remarks NAM President John Engler. “It’s high time our products had reciprocal access there.”

The six CAFTA countries are Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

“Remember, CAFTA is not a minor market for US exports,” Engler exclaims.

“It’s America’s 10th largest export market already and, with CAFTA in place, US exporters stand to increase their market share considerably.”

NAM has been critical of lobbying efforts against the FTA, claiming groups were trying to influence Congress with misinformation.

“Despite the biggest misinformation campaign against a trade agreement in modern history, the Senate didn’t buy it and ultimately acted in America’s best economic and foreign policy interests,” Engler says. “The House should now do the same because, as I’ve said many times before, CAFTA is a ‘no-brainer.’”

NAM has always purported that free trade agreements (FTAs) in general remove barriers to US industrial exports and encourage multilateral trade liberalization.

“They are critically important when it comes to the preservation and creation of manufacturing jobs in the United States. CAFTA will do just that,” Engler says.

The Bush Administration and various trade groups have been intensely lobbying the Senate during the last several months in what has become one of the most controversial trade deals in a decade.

Washington insiders contend that the Central America Free Trade Agreement faces stiffer opposition in the House. While President Bush argues the accord would be good for US businesses and would foster democracy among America’s neighbors, Democratic foes say it would allow continued worker rights abuses in trade-partner countries. Some lawmakers, particularly from sugar beet and sugar cane-growing states, contend it would hurt local industries.

The Administration has never lost a trade battle in Congress and considers CAFTA-DR a vital step as it advances larger global free trade talks. Supporters also said the agreement would be a bulwark to protect the hemisphere from further trade inroads by China. CAFTA could help Central American textile makers that use American-made yarn and fabric in their exports to the United States. Chinese products have little or no US content. The agreement would eliminate, immediately or over time, almost all tariffs and other trade barriers to US imports. It would provide better protection for US patents and trademarks and digital software such as music and videos, and establish a legal framework for US investment.