After a late-night round of arm-twisting of Republican lawmakers led by President George W. Bush himself, the House of Representatives passed the "CAFTA-DR" bill by the narrowest of margins -- 217 votes to 215.
At $15 billion a year, U.S. exports to the countries covered by the pact -- the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Guatemala -- are not large but the vote, "sends a strong signal to our trading partners that the U.S. continues to be a vigorous leader in attaining global free trade," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johnaas. "Passage of CAFTA-DR provides new momentum for the Doha Round and other negotiations," he added.
Signed more than a year ago, CAFTA-DR was approved by a slender majority of 54-45 in the Senate on June 30, and its passage in the House remained uncertain until the last minute.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005