"Tonight is an historic night for American leadership on free and fair trade," U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said Wednesday night after the House approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
The House approved CAFTA-DR on a 217-215 vote early Thursday morning, predominantly supported by Republicans with 15 Democrats who left their camps to support the deal.
"The House sent the right message in passing CAFTA-DR; the United Stated is committed to free and fair trade and economic growth among our nations," says Leon Corzine, National Corn Growers Association president. "This agreement creates significant and much-needed opportunity for U.S. farmers, businesses consumers and our nation as a whole."
CAFTA-DR provides immediate duty-free access to more than half of all U.S. agricultural exports to the region and will enhance U.S. agricultural exports by $1.5 billion when fully implemented. Several agriculture organizations have long touted the benefits this agreement provides to agriculture, including:
- Increasing agriculture exports by $900 million annually
- Immediate elimination of duties on more than 80% of U.S. exports
- Increasing exports of U.S. manufactured exports by approximately $3 billion annually
- Opening markets to give our growers access to important markets
Minnesota Congressman Collin C. Peterson, House Agriculture Committee ranking member, pointed fingers at the Administration for resorting to Washington deal-making. "The checkbook was opened and deals were made right up until the last minute to force CAFTA through in the dark of night," he says. "It is a sad day when shameful bribes and twisted arms are necessary to force through a trade agreement that the public does not support. Our farmers and workers deserve better."
The Senate and House agreements are not amendable and the agreement now goes to President George W. Bush for signing into law.
Launching pad for future trade advancements
As Portman observed recently, this is an important "gateway" agreement: its passage is an important step toward market opening trade agreements with other partners that will bring larger economic gains.
Peter M. Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the United States Council for International Business, says, "In this regard, American business is hopeful that passage of DR-CAFTA will provide a timely impetus for completion of the World Trade Organizationâ€™s Doha Round. Finalizing a Doha Round agreement on commercially advantageous terms is our top priority. We encourage the U.S. and other major trading nations to make the important political decisions necessary to reach a broad, market-opening agreement in the WTO by the end of 2006."
Portman heads to Geneva Thursday where much work remains to keep the WTO Doha talks on track.