The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a free trade agreement with Jordan. The measure, which awaits Senate action, would be the first U.S. free trade agreement with an Arab nation, and the first trade pact to include guarantees upholding worker rights and environmental standards.
The trade pact, which was passed by voice vote, would end tariffs on each country's agricultural and industrial goods over 10 years.
Republicans and Democrats both agreed the measure would help bring economic and political stability to the Middle East.
But they disagreed on the need for labor and environmental protections included in the body of the accord.
The pact calls on both countries to enforce their own existing laws concerning worker rights and environmental protections. It also allows either country to appeal to a dispute resolution panel if it feels the other is violating those laws.
Republicans and their allies in the business community argue such provisions hinder trade. "There is a great arrogance that exists as we proceed with the debate on trade for the United States," Congressman David Dreir of California said, "to impose on developing nations, nations that are struggling to get onto the first rung of the economic ladder, standards with which they cannot comply."
But many Democrats, backed by their labor and environmental group allies, reject that argument. "Don't talk about shoving this down somebody's throat," Congressman Sander Levin of Michigan said. "It is not true. Secondly, imposition of our standards? Nonsense! When it comes to core labor standards, these are ILO (International Labor Organization) standards that most nations have already agreed to."
To bolster Republican support for the pact, the Bush administration last week exchanged letters with the Jordanian government clarifying that neither country expected to impose sanctions to enforce the environmental and labor provisions.
Democrats accused the administration of seeking to undermine the trade agreement. They said the move would complicate administration efforts to win Congressional approval for renewing the President's authority to negotiate trade deals, known as fast track.
The free trade pact with Jordan is not expected to have much impact on bilateral trade. The United States exported $300 million in goods to Jordan last year, making Jordan the 75th largest U.S. market, while Jordan sold $78 million worth of goods to the United States.