The fight over votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement is in full force on Capitol Hill this week as each chamber begins to determine if there are enough votes to defeat or pass the measure.
Depending on the state, several democrats have switched party lines to support the agreement. For instance, Congress Daily reports that freshman GOP Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas announced his support from the agreement because of the economic development it would add to his district.
House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., joined the National Farmers Union on Tuesday for a anti-CAFTA rally. In remarks Peterson predicted that 190 House democrats would oppose the deal. Peterson also predicted that the vote would lose by 40 to 50 votes in the House.
Republican leaders are unlikely to bring the agreement to a vote unless they have the votes to win. Sources indicate the House Ways and Means Committee will schedule a hearing on the agreement in April. The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing April 6 on CAFTA.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that CAFTA-DR could boost U.S. agricultural exports by $1.5 billion when fully implemented. U.S. agricultural exports to the region totaled $1.6 billion in 2003. The United States is the region's single largest source of agricultural imports, accounting for 41% of imports by value in 2001. However, U.S. share declined from 54% of total imports in 1995, due in large part to preferential access conditions afforded third countries by the Central Americans through bilateral trade agreements, the U.S. Trade Representative office reports.
NFU President Dave Frederickson says the impact of CAFTA will be seen in more imports of sugar, fruit, vegetables, ethanol and other commodities, while estimates of sizable trade gains are "overly optimistic."
"CAFTA proponents overestimate the agreement's potential benefits, often ignoring the fact that nations included in CAFTA represent small populations with low purchasing power," Frederickson says. "The CAFTA, and the U.S. trade agenda as a whole, seems more inclined to negotiate with countries that want increased access to U.S. markets rather than with countries interested in buying more U.S. agricultural products, such as Cuba."