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Washington Outlook Archive

US Signs Central American Trade Pact

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

 US Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick has informed Congress that the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) will be signed in Washington on May 28, but the highly controversial pact is far from a done deal. The formal signing is just another step in a process that is filled with potholes. Under the fast track legislative process, the administration must wait 90 days to advise Congress of its intent to sign an agreement, and that will be accomplished on May 28. However, there is no deadline for the administration to submit formal legislative language, and in view of the controversial nature of the agreement, that is not very likely to happen during this election year. Once legislative language is submitted, Congress has 90 days to accept or reject the pact without amendments.

The agreement has the strong support of retailers and other importers of textiles and apparel, but the US textile industry is flat out opposed to it in its present form. Importers believe CAFTA presents a nearby alternative to Chinese imports, and they say it can provide greater flexibility for their apparel sourcing. The US industry contends that CAFTA is too loosely worded and could open the gates to more imports from non-participating countries.

May 2004