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James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Members Of Congress And Industry Attack CAFTA-DR Pact

By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

In a highly unusual maneuver, a non-partisan and wide-ranging group of members of Congress joined industry and labor representatives on April 20 in a major assault on the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). While the textile industry and organized labor have organized rallies against trade legislation in the past, what was different this time was the extensive involvement of members of Congress in the effort. The House Ways and Means Committee has scheduled a hearing on CAFTA-DR for April 21, and the rally was an attempt to demonstrate up front that there is considerable opposition to the pact.

It would grant duty-free access to US markets for textile and apparel imports from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. House Majority Leader Tom Delay has given the House a deadline of Memorial Day, May 30, to have a vote on the agreement, which has the strong support of the White House. Importers of textiles and apparel including major retailers support the agreement as a viable alternative to becoming too dependent on Chinese imports.

Nineteen members of the House and three senators participated in a Capitol Hill news conference or issued statements opposing the trade agreement. In addition, 23 interest groups ranging from the AFL-CIO to various consumer and religious groups participated. One of the participants, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), said: "CAFTA is the dysfunctional cousin of NAFTA and will do nothing to stop the job loss in the United States or improve economic conditions for workers in Central America. Opposition to CAFTA crosses all policy and political lines. Scores of trade groups that historically support [free trade agreements] this time are adamantly opposed. Members from both sides of the aisle decry this agreement. Plain and simple, CAFTA is a failure."

Others charged that CAFTA-DR will undercut existing free trade agreements in the area that call for use of yarn and fabric from the participating countries and that loopholes will allow massive quantities of Chinese yarn, fabric and other components to be used instead of products made in the United States.

April 2005