Government and business leaders in Guatemala applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for its approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) early Thursday, saying it will bring more jobs and foreign investment to the region. However, environmental and farmer organizations say the treaty will cause greater unemployment and more migration to the U.S.
CAFTA will remove most tariffs from goods traded between the U.S., five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. It is expected to take force as early as January 1, 2006.
The news brought mixed reactions in Guatemala, one of the six countries included in the trade pact with the United States.
Guatemalan congressman Mariano Rayo called the House's approval of CAFTA a victory for the country.
Mr. Rayo said CAFTA opens up great opportunities for employment and investment in Guatemala.
But he warns Guatemala must prepare itself to compete for this investment with other CAFTA countries.
The Guatemalan congress has committed to passing a series of laws designed to mitigate the treaty's negative effects on some sectors.
However, CAFTA opponents say these laws aren't enough. Miguel Angel Sandoval, of the anti-CAFTA group, Mesa Global, called the treaty a disaster for Central America.
It was a poorly negotiated treaty, says Mr. Sandoval, that doesn't represent the region's needs.
He called on the government to increase spending for development and assist small farmers in order to avoid a social and political crisis in Guatemala when CAFTA takes effect.