Congressional Committees Act On CAFTA
James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent
Committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have taken in initial steps toward
clearing the way for congressional consideration of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free
Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). The committees have held mock markups of legislation that would
implement the agreement. Under fast track procedures that will be used to consider the agreement,
the administration must submit legislation to Congress for a straight up or down vote without any
amendments. The mock up procedure gives the congressional committees an opportunity to suggest
amendments to the final text before it is formally submitted to Congress.
During the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee mock ups, members discussed concession to the sugar and textile industries in an effort to pick up support for the bill. They also discussed amendments that would address labor standards in the Central American countries in an effort to get support from organized labor. Specific amendments calling for stricter labor standards were rejected by both the Senate and House committees.
The Finance Committee approved a recommendation that more funds be made available to assist workers who lose their jobs as a result of imports. That would not have to be included in the actual agreement and could be addressed through other legislation. The Bush administration cant make too many changes or concessions, since the agreement already has been negotiated with the Central American countries, and no one is interesting in getting involved in re-opening negotiations. The outlook for passage remains uncertain as there still appears to be considerable opposition. The textile industry remains split as are senators and representatives from the textile manufacturing states. Textile and apparel importers are calling for quick passage of the measure in its present form and it does not appear that organized labor is getting won over. Supporters of DR-CAFTA would like to have congressional action before the July 4 recess.