CAFTA to Miss New Year's Day Target; House Democrat Calls Delay 'Stunning Failure'
Byline: Jeffrey Sparshott, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Central American Free Trade Agreement, a Bush administration priority passed by the House in July after a bruising political fight, will not take effect New Year's Day, the target date set by the White House.
House Democrats, who voted overwhelmingly against the pact, latched on to the delay as a sure sign of a flawed trade policy.
"This is a stunning failure for the Bush administration. ... CAFTA was their No. 1 trade priority for the year and it has fallen victim to the inconsistencies of their negotiating positions," Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, said yesterday. Mr. Rangel is the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade.
The administration downplayed the delay in implementing the pact, which would lower trade barriers among the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
"It has nothing to do with flawed policy," said Steve Norton, spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative's Office (USTR).
"It would be irresponsible to implement the agreement unless our trading partners were fully ready. We're hoping to be able to implement February 1 or March 1 ... depending on the country," said Mr. Norton, who added that no firm date has been set for any of the nations, but that the administration was pressing for implementation as soon as possible.
House lawmakers in July narrowly approved CAFTA 217-215 in one of the toughest votes of the year. The administration portrayed the trade pact as a matter of national security and economic urgency amid a history of insurgency and instability that plagued the region through the Cold War.
"These are small nations, but they're making big and brave commitments, and America needs to continue to support them as they walk down the road of openness and accountability," President Bush said in May while shoring up support. …