Free Trade Agreement Flies despite Opposition

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Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

The passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement met with mixed reaction in Oregon and Lane County on Thursday.

Rep. Peter DeFazio called the agreement, which passed by a slim two-vote margin shortly after midnight on Wednesday, a "gerrymander of special interests."

"It really has very little to do with free trade," he said.

"The president talks about how it will increase exports, and that's true," DeFazio said. But the president didn't share the other half of the story, he said. CAFTA also will increase our imports, thereby increasing our trade deficit, DeFazio said.

The agreement, which was approved 217-215 by the U.S. House, will end most tariffs on goods traded among the United States and the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Supporters and opponents agreed that President Bush's more ambitious goal of creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas would be unthinkable without passage of the much smaller CAFTA.

Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney made a rare joint visit to the Capitol to lobby for CAFTA, which had already been passed by the Senate.

While CAFTA covers a region that purchased only $15 billion worth of U.S. goods last year, FTAA would turn 34 countries in the western hemisphere into a single trading zone encompassing about 800 million people.

Local labor groups Thursday lambasted CAFTA as a threat to U.S. jobs.

"We're very disappointed with the passage of CAFTA because of the job losses that are inherent with these kinds of agreements," said Patty Wentz, spokeswoman for the Oregon chapter of the AFL-CIO. …