WASHINGTON — The Bush administration will intensify its push this week to shore up votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement as a showdown in the House draws closer.
The administration is trying to chip away at opposition to the trade accord, which proposes to lower and eliminate tariffs on goods and services between the U.S. and Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The Senate approved CAFTA on June 30.
Republicans from states hit hard by imports trade have joined blocs of Democrats who oppose the accord's labor provisions, and the administration has turned its focus to Southern GOP loyalists from textile states to try to find enough votes for the treaty's passage.
The latest chapter in the political deal-making has brought together U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman with Reps. Bob Inglis (R., S.C.), J. Gresham Barrett (R., S.C.), Michael Rogers (R., Ala.), Phil Gingrey (R., Ga.) and Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.).
Inglis said in an interview that Portman had made some progress on fine-tuning or amplifying three previous pledges the administration had made to the textile industry, but that progress suffered a setback on one of the promises last week. Nicaragua, which received allowances to use foreign fabrics and yarn from outside of the U.S. and the region, apparently backed off a pledge to preserve some $95 million in existing U.S. business. Inglis said Portman is working to bring the Nicaraguans back on board.
The two other pledges appear to be on track, Inglis said. One is the administration's revision of its provision on cumulation, which allows a limited amount of woven, denim and wool apparel made in the CAFTA countries from Mexican and Canadian fabric to qualify for duty-free treatment in the U.S. Inglis said Portman's office agreed to put off cumulation with Mexico until it improves its customs procedures.
In addition, the administration is closer to getting firm commitments from the CAFTA countries to support a change to a treaty provision for pocketing fabric, to require that it be made by one of the signatory countries.
The changes will likely need Congressional approval. Inglis said he is asking Congress to act before the full vote on CAFTA, expected by the end of the month.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"