BYLINE: HERBERT A. SAMPLE
Election-year roadblocks lie ahead
An old political adage in Washington teaches that trade agreements should only be considered during odd-numbered years, not when voters are deciding your fate. But the outgoing Bush administration will stare that axiom in the face over the next several months as it pushes Congress to approve at least one and perhaps two free-trade pacts with Latin American countries.
Waiting anxiously on the sidelines are U.S. businesses lining the Gulf of Mexico. Manufacturers, freight forwarders, agricultural interests and others are predicting a surge in trade with Colombia and Panama if the two agreements are adopted. At the same time, critics say that labor conditions in the two nations could block the accords. And in the back of everyone's mind are the trade policies of the next president -- whoever he or she turns out to be.
"It's a watershed moment in trade history," said Edward T. Hayes, an international trade attorney with the New Orleans firm of Leake & Andersson.
The more significant of the two pacts is the proposed free-trade agreement with Colombia, known formally as the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. It would drop tariffs from about 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial products going into the country, according to U.S. trade officials. The remaining duties would phase out over 10 years. Most Colombian goods already enter the United States duty-free.
Among the products that would gain immediate entry into Colombia sans tariffs …