The U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) took a big step toward becoming reality Wednesday. The House Ways and Means Committee voted 39 to 0 to approve the deal, under which the two countries would slash tariffs on each other's goods and services. It was not easy to get to this point. In the spring, congressional Democrats appeared ready to join with the Bush administration and pass the Peru deal; then they backed away. Over the summer, Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., negotiated new Peruvian commitments on labor rights and the environment that made it possible, both substantively and politically, for House Democrats finally to say yes. In fact, the adjustments made it all but impossible for them to say no.
The most prominent Democratic holdout is presidential candidate John Edwards. A few days before the TPA vote, the former North Carolina senator claimed that the pact "does not meet my standard of putting American workers and communities first, ahead of the interests of the big multinational corporations." In explanation, Edwards' Web site said that no new trade agreements should be adopted until Congress passes universal health care, tax reform and several other desirable but elusive pieces of legislation. Somewhat more specifically, he complained that the agreement "limit(s) how we can spend our own tax dollars by banning many Buy America policies." Apparently, this refers to restrictions on new federal and state rules against contracting with Peruvian firms for services. It's a pretty abstruse concern, especially since, even under the TPA, existing policies could remain. How extreme is Edwards's view? Among those voting in favor of the Peru pact was Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., one of the leading trade skeptics in his caucus. He called the agreement, as revised, "a dramatic step in a new trade policy."
- Washington Post
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