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House passes trade pact with Peru

Los Angeles Times | November 9, 2007

House passes trade pact with Peru

The vote reveals a split among Democrats over the broader issue of free trade. The deal is viewed as a model for others that Bush finds crucial to bolstering the U.S. economy and promoting democracy.

By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a rare victory for President Bush since Democrats took control of Congress, the House approved a trade agreement with Peru today in a vote that exposed a rift within the Democratic ranks over the issue.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and 108 other Democrats broke with a majority of their party to join 176 Republicans in approving the measure, 285-132.

"I don’t want this party to be viewed as an anti-trade party," Pelosi said, urging Democrats to support the agreement, which includes standards to protect workers and the environment.

But 116 Democrats still opposed the agreement, including some freshmen from districts where trade has been blamed for taking away jobs and shuttering work sites.

"Districts like mine represent the very worst of unfair trade — jobs lost, economies devastated and lives shattered," said Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.). "Weary of more bad trade deals, last November voters swept fair-trade Democrats into office — sending a clear mandate for a new direction on trade. And yet here we are. Voting on another one-sided, so-called free-trade agreement."

Democratic leaders said new provisions in the agreement required Peru to adopt additional protections for workers and the environment. The Bush administration agreed to the changes earlier this year to win Democratic support.

"This is the first step toward a new trade agreement," said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, chairman of the House and Ways and Means subcommittee on trade.

The agreement, the first trade deal to come before Congress since Democrats won control in last fall’s elections, now goes to the Senate for expected approval.

The vote raised hopes among free-trade advocates that Congress will also approve trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Bush has portrayed the agreements as important to bolster the U.S. economy and promote democracy in regions crucial to America’s security.

The Peru agreement has erupted as an issue on the campaign trail, dividing Democratic presidential candidates too.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards spoke out against the pact Wednesday and criticized Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for failing to take a position. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has come out in support of the agreement.

Although Peru accounts for a small amount of trade compared with other countries, the agreement is considered a model for other pacts. The United States exported $2.9 billion in goods to the Andean nation in 2006, an amount that is projected to increase by $1.1 billion under the agreement.

"This was not Bush’s Peru deal," Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) said. "This is a different deal now. This is a deal that takes into account the insecurities of working men and women, not just in the U.S. but also in Peru."

Asked about the friction within the Democratic Party over the agreement, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who supported the measure, said, "Sometimes, our party can’t take yes for an answer."

Citing the labor and environment standards, she explained, "This is what we have defined as fair trade for years. So I think we should be declaring victory."

But a number of Democrats contended the protections didn’t go far enough and expressed skepticism about whether the Bush administration would enforce the labor standards.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) asked, "Who will enforce these labor standards? Who will enforce these environmental standards. The Bush administration? I don’t think so!"

Hare said he thought the vote was a mistake. "I hope there’s not a blowback from our base," he said.

Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Lakewood) said that although there were improvements to the agreement compared with past agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, "the agreement is still not good enough."

"I feel like I’m at a used-car lot, and the dealer is trying to sell the American people a beat-up old NAFTA lemon with a new paint job," she said.

Critics of the trade deal seized on reports out of Peru that the government ordered striking miners to return to work or be fired as evidence of anti-labor conditions that persist even as the trade agreement was being considered.

The Teamsters called the trade agreement "nothing more than an expansion of the job-killing NAFTA model."

"What I can’t understand is why does the Democratic leadership want to give George Bush a victory?" Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said this week.

The AFL-CIO told lawmakers that it would neither "support the agreement nor oppose it," a spokesman said. In a letter, AFL-CIO Legislative Director William Samuel said the agreement "marks an important step toward a trade model that will benefit working people in both countries," but said, "further work is required to improve the template for future trade agreements and to ensure that current trade agreements are energetically and consistently enforced."

To build Democratic support for the trade agreement, Pelosi worked to win House passage last week of an $8.6-billion expansion of a federal program that assists workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition.

Bush, however, has threatened to veto the measure because the administration believes it would expand the program to workers "not demonstrably affected by trade."

 source: LA Times