WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee voted Wednesday to send the Central American Free Trade Agreement to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation.
The affirmative voice-vote gives the trade accord some momentum and paves the way for a full Senate vote, which might take place by the end of the week.
The House Ways and Means Committee is to vote on CAFTA today but a full vote in the House is not expected until after Congress returns from the July Fourth recess on July 11.
CAFTA, which is intended to eliminate trade barriers with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, is expected to face tough going in the Senate. The Bush administration, which has made the accord a cornerstone of its trade agenda, has not yet resolved the concerns of senators representing sugar-producing states that fear a surge in imports.
Sen. Craig Thomas (R., Wyo.), who was involved in last-minute negotiations with the administration and sugar industry representatives, voted against the bill, according to an announcement by the committee.
However, the administration won the backing of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.), who reversed his opposition after U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman made commitments to increase funding for labor law enforcement in Central America and to find more money to help subsistence-level farmers in that region who would be hurt most by higher imports.
The textile industry, which is represented by a key voting bloc, is divided over the proposal. Most fabric producers oppose it, while yarn spinners and fiber producers support the pact.
by Kristi Ellis
For more, see tomorrow’s WWD.