Bush pushing Central American Free Trade Agreement

| 5/12/2005

President Bush brought in six leaders from Central American countries to help him in his battle to gain approval of CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, media outlets reported Thursday, March 12.

A previous agreement, NAFTA, has been in effect for a decade and has been the source of considerable controversy, including within the trucking industry. That agreement calls for allowing Mexican drivers free access to U.S. roads.

Like NAFTA, CAFTA would set up a free trade zone, this time encompassing the nations of Central America – El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama – as well as the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.

Leaders from some of those nations visited with U.S. officials in Washington, pushing for passage of the agreement. Congress must approve the pact before it can go into effect.

U.S. officials reached an agreement with the seven nations in late 2003, but President George W. Bush has been unable to secure approval on Capitol Hill. And ever since the agreement was reached, opponents of the new agreement have been lining up to take pot shots. In addition to almost universal opposition from Democrats, several influential Republicans have said they have problems with the agreement as well. 

Several key lobbying groups – such as the sugar industry – have also taken up the fight, contending the agreement will hurt them, according to media reports.

The Associated Press called CAFTA the “most significant multilateral pact” since NAFTA – and a key step toward an eventual goal of setting up a free-trade zone that would cover all of North America, Central America and South America.