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Bush Urges Congress to Pass Free Trade Agreement

George W. Bush
President Bush wants Congress to ratify a free-trade agreement with Central American nations. Democrats say the plan weakens labor rights and would cost jobs in the United States.

President Bush says he will use a Monday meeting in Florida to tell leaders from the Organization of American States that a regional free trade agreement is a good deal for workers, farmers and small businesses in the United States and throughout the hemisphere.

In his weekly radio address, President Bush again called on Congress to ratify that plan, known as the Central America and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.

"CAFTA will lower barriers in key sectors, like textiles, which will make American manufacturers more competitive in the global market," the president said. "And CAFTA will make our neighborhood more secure by strengthening young democracies. CAFTA is a practical, pro-jobs piece of legislation. And Congress needs to pass it soon."

President Bush says it is not fair that about 80 percent of products from Central America and the Dominican Republic enter the United States duty free, while U.S. exports to those countries face hefty tariffs.

He says CAFTA will level the playing field by making about 80 percent of U.S. exports to those countries duty free.

Congressional Democrats, who oppose the agreement, say it fails to safeguard environmental and labor protections for lower wage workers in Central America.

In the Democratic radio address, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan says more workers in the United States will lose their jobs, and the U.S. trade deficit will grow, if Congress ratifies CAFTA.

"How many more American [U.S.] workers will lose their jobs to cheap foreign labor, before we understand that the current trade policy puts our standard of living in the U.S. in a race to the bottom?" Senator Dorgan said. "Why does the president oppose our efforts to shut down tax breaks now given to these corporations that move American [U.S.] jobs overseas?"

President Bush also faces legislative opposition on CAFTA from some within his own party, mostly Republicans from states with large textile mills and sugar plantations, threatened by foreign competition.