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Latin Free Trade: Falling Support 

US lawmakers are increasingly voting against free trade with Latin America.


As the leading Democratic presidential candidates are voicing more opposition to free trade with Latin America, the record shows that U.S. lawmakers have followed the same trend.

While both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the US free trade agreement with Chile were approved with strong majorities (in 1993 and 2003, respectively), the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) barely got enough support to pass in 2005.

And new FTAs with Colombia and Peru - formally signed last year - have had to wait a considerable time before even being considered for a vote. The Peru FTA, for example, was actually completed as far back as December 2005, while the Colombia one was concluded in February 2006.


NAFTA was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on November 17, 1993 with 234 votes in favor and 200 against, while the US Senate approved it on November 20, 1993 with 61 votes in favor and 38 against.

Ten years later, the U.S.-Chile FTA was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives with 270 votes in favor and 156 against in a July 24, 2003 vote. The U.S. Senate approved it on July 31, 2003 with 65 votes versus 32 (and three abstentions).

CAFTA, however, passed the U.S. Senate on June 30, 2005 with 54 votes in favor, 45 against and one abstention, while it only got passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 28, 2005 thanks to a majority of two votes - 217 votes in favor and 215 against.

Despite support for NAFTA and the U.S.-Chile FTA  from Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president, several leading Democrats today are firmly against free trade. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, voted against NAFTA, the Chile FTA and CAFTA, as did Eliot Engel, Chairman of the U.S. House Subcommitte on the Western Hemisphere.


Charles Rangel, who now is chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, voted against NAFTA and CAFTA.  Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, voted against CAFTA, as did House majority leader Steny Hoyer. Pelosi did vote for the Chile FTA and NAFTA, as did Hoyer.

Rangel voted for the Chile FTA and favors lifting the U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba. "A policy that in 50 years has done nothing to change Cuba but only harms everyday Americans, our farmers and our business people should be changed," he said in June.

Pelosi, Hoyer and Rangel in May reached an agreement with the Bush Administration to approve the US FTA's with Panama and Peru, but they then reneged. Key Democrats delayed the Colombia FTA indefinitely while requiring Peru and Panama to first pass additional laws before they would approve the accord.  Rangel has signaled that he may support the FTA with Peru. During a visit to Lima two weeks ago, he said the Peru FTA would be a priority when Congress reconvenes after its August vacation.

The delays in approving the new FTA's come as one poll shows
more American favor free trade with Latin America than oppose it. Nearly half of all Americans - 48 percent - believe the United States should pursue more free trade agreements with Latin American nations, while 36 percent are opposed, according to a new poll by Zogby Interactive

EDITOR'S NOTE: An original version of this article stated that the May agreement between Rangel and the Bush Administration included Colombia. However, the office of the Ways and Means Committee emphasizes that it only included Panama and Peru and not Colombia.

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