Canton Repository

April 21, 2005

Democratic lawmakers united against CAFTA

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Area Democratic lawmakers are united in their opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which they insist would result in American job loss.

Their Republican counterparts, Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, and Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, are undecided about the trade agreement, which is shaping up to be as controversial as the congressional battle more than a decade ago over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon and Tim Ryan, D-Niles, joined more than a dozen other lawmakers, including several Republicans, who oppose CAFTA in a rally Wednesday across the street from the Capitol.

The trade agreement negotiated between the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic would lower trade barriers and promote increased trade and investment between the nations.

President Bush supports the trade pact, but Congress must approve U.S. participation.

Brown, who is leading the campaign to defeat the plan in the House, predicted the agreement would fail if a vote were held today. That’s why the trade pact has not been put up for a vote in the House even though it was signed by the participating nations last year, he said.

Supporters would need at least 218 votes to win House approval of the trade pact. Brown said they would fall far short of that figure in the 435-member House because 195 Democrats oppose the agreement along with 60 or more Republicans.

Regula, who voted against NAFTA in 1993, and Ney are still studying the issue, their representatives said. Ney began his first term in the House in 1995, after the NAFTA vote.

“I can’t make up my mind until I get the facts,” Regula said recently when asked about CAFTA. Regula has a history of not revealing his positions on legislation prior to a vote.

In the past two years, Regula and Ney have voted in favor of the administration’s free-trade agreements, including pacts with Morocco, Australia, Chile and Singapore.

Advocates of CAFTA say it would benefit American farmers and workers by opening Central American markets to U.S. goods while strengthening freedom and democracy in those nations.

In an analysis of CAFTA last year, the U.S. International Trade Commission concluded the agreement would have little impact on the United States because the economies of the six Latin American nations are relatively small.

U.S. exports would rise by just $1.9 billion, or 0.16 percent, while imports would go up by $1.2 billion, or 0.07 percent, the trade commission said.

Brown dismissed the report, which he said reminds him of previous studies showing favorable results from trade agreements, which Brown disputes.

In Ohio, he said, CAFTA would “continue the erosion of manufacturing” by making it easier for American companies to shift production to Central America.

“I would expect it would hurt the American farmer and American small businesses, especially the kind of machine shops that are so common in Akron and Canton and Mansfield and Wooster,” he said.

Strickland said CAFTA is as bad for American workers as NAFTA.

“Too many Americans, Mexicans and Canadians have learned the hard way that free-trade agreements lead to shuttered factories, exploited workers, weaker labor standards and a perennial race to the bottom in worker wages,” he said.

Ryan complained the agreement would offer “more of an opportunity” for corporations to shift production to Central America. “It’s basically the same fundamental that we’ve been fighting over the past few years,” he said.