Three Republican congressmen from Iowa say they’ll back a trade agreement that’s coming up for a vote in the U-S House this week. Congressman Tom Latham, a Republican from Alexander, plans to vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. “This is a great opportunity for us to break down the tariffs, the barriers to free and fair trade in Central America,” Latham says. “Currently, they have a priority status in those countries as far as no tariffs for their products coming into the U.S. What the problem for us is are the high tariffs that are slowing down our entrance into those markets.” Latham says it’s also a national security issue. He says after Mexico, four of the top five countries where illegal immigrants to the U-S are coming from are in Central America. “If they can have some type of economic hope down there, opportunity to feed their families, they’re not going to be nearly as apt to come into this country illegally,” Latham says. Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Kiron, expects a “cliff-hanger” when CAFTA — the acronym for the Central American Free Trade Agreement — comes up for a vote this week. “Democrats have taken a position to oppose this trade agreement…and yet CAFTA for Iowans especially is a no-brainer,” King says. “There is no downside to Iowa agriculture or Midwestern agriculture.” King says the Chinese have a strong influence in Central America and the agreement will bolster the U-S influence in the region to counteract that. Congressman Jim Nussle, a Republican from Manchester who’s running for governor, predicts CAFTA will pass, but by a slim margin. “Unfortunately what’s happened is that everybody’s frustration over trade with China, trae with Europe, trade barriers around the world to Iowa products and American products, all of that emotion and frustration is coming out in what may be the simplest and one of the best trade agreements that Iowa and our country has ever seen,” Nussle says. Nussle says for 20 years, American products have faced barriers — tariffs — going into Central America, whereas products and produce from that region could be imported into the U-S virtually duty-free. “In this agreement, we lower all their barriers. We change nothing…and basically as a result open the door to 44 million customers in Central America,” Nussle says. “That’s one of the most lop-sided victories in this trade battle that I’ve ever seen.” Iowa’s other Republican congressman is Jim Leach and his press secretary says Leach is still undecided but “strongly leaning” toward supporting the trade pact. Leonard Boswell of Des Moines, the only Democrat from Iowa serving in the U.S. House, plans to vote “no” on CAFTA. “First off just to make just a blank statement, I think this is more of a political vote than a trade vote because it’s been laying in the wings now for over a year and good trade votes don’t do that. They come up right away,” Boswell says. Boswell doesn’t buy the argument there’s a big market for American products in Central America. “People there, about half of ’em making around $2 a day, others not much more,” Boswell says. “As optimistic as I can be as a farmer, that’s pretty big optimism that people making $2 a day are going to be buying a lot of American products. That just doesn’t hold water.” Boswell says he has supported trade agreements in the past drawn up to deal with New Zealand, Australia, Chile and other countries, but can’t support this one. “It opens an opportunity for China, for example, to send goods through (Central America) and relabel it as if it came from there and that’s just not a good idea,” Boswell says. The U.S. Senate already endorsed the Central American Free Trade Agreement back on June 30th. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican, supported it, saying it is “very much in our economic and national security interests.” Iowa’s other U-S Senator, Democrat Tom Harkin, voted against CAFTA. In a rare move, President Bush made a personal pitch today (Wednesday) to Republicans in the House to vote for CAFTA and House leaders say the issue may come up for a vote sometime later today or early tomorrow.
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