Senators who approved the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement late last month championed it as a way to reduce tariffs on American-made goods, but the governments own International Trade Commission found that its impact on the gross domestic product would be too small to register.
"CAFTA, by all accounts, has minimal benefits for our country," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who opposed the agreement. "CAFTA countries are tiny, tiny markets."
Despite CAFTAs dubious effect on the United States balance of trade, the technology industry has made its passage a top priority this year. For the industry, the legislations intellectual property protection provisions are as important as reducing barriers to trade.
The issue does not divide neatly along party lines. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., supports the measure, arguing that Central American governments could become significant buyers of U.S. high-tech goods, creating new opportunities for American workers.
"The governmental bodies in the region would have the funds in order to purchase the value-added goods," Wyden said, adding that he would have preferred to include a trade adjustment assistance package to help displaced workers move into other fields.
The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, a Redmond, Wash., chapter of the Communications Workers of America, opposes CAFTA and similar agreements on the grounds that they make it easier for companies to move American jobs overseas.
"What you find is that these trade agreements are not about trade. Theyre really about granting superrights to corporations," said Marcus Courtney, president of WashTech.
The real powerhouse behind the opposition stems from the sugar industry, which fears that the United States will reduce its price supports without assuring trade partners do the same.
Opponents in Congress take issue with the process by which the legislation advanced, particularly rules that prevented amendments to the administrations bill. Complaining that trade "is being taken over by the executive [branch]," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said, "The administration has chosen to force the legislation through Congress."
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