Much at stake on CAFTA

Dallas Morning News: There's a lot to be lost if Congress doesn't approve a Central American free-trade pact.
Foremost is U.S. credibility. President Bush strongly favors this trade pact as part of expanded free-trading zones through the hemisphere. But if Congress rejects it, the world could easily conclude that the United States talks one trade game and plays another.
A second casualty is likely to be trade promotion authority, which gives the president the authority to encourage trade agreements around the globe. Getting China to open its markets becomes more difficult.
Defeat for reform
The greatest and most immediate casualty, however, could be economic and political stability in Central America. With leftist-leaning movements gaining in South America, a CAFTA-DR defeat would put economic reform in Central America on life support.
This week is critical for the prospects of CAFTA-DR, which proposes to unite the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica in a single trading bloc with the United States, much as NAFTA has done for the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Congressional committees will begin writing legislation to implement the agreement. Mr. Bush wants lawmakers to approve the measure as quickly as possible, perhaps even before the July 4 recess.
If CAFTA-DR doesn't pass, American global economic leadership suffers badly. Protectionist barriers return. Living standards in Central America suffer, and illegal immigration to the north worsens.

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