Bush Stumps For Free Trade

"This deal is a good deal for workers," Mr. Bush said, adding that the measure would also support emerging democracies in Central America.

"Central America is the second largest market in the world for our textile products. So if you're a textile worker, it seems to me you ask, where do we sell our textiles?" Mr. Bush said.

It would also help stabilize trade between the United States and the region, Mr. Bush said.

North Carolina is one of the hotbeds of opposition to the pact, which is modeled on the North American Free Trade Agreement passed 12 years ago that established free trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Critics contend CAFTA will cost U.S. jobs by making it easier for U.S. companies to relocate operations in Central America, where labor costs are lower. The White House argues the opposite, asserting it will bring jobs to the United States.

Mr. Bush contends the pact would be "good for American workers, good for our farmers and good for small businesses" and "help increase sales abroad and job creation at home."

The textile industry is divided on CAFTA.

Some are opposed because of an inherent mistrust of any free trade deal. Others say it will help the U.S. industry because it will help Central American manufacturers, who buy material and yarn from the United States. Chinese textiles, by contrast, have little or no U.S. content.

CAFTA would further open a market of 44 million people by eliminating trade barriers to U.S. manufactured and farm goods, protecting trademarks and other intellectual property and establishing legal frameworks for U.S. investment. Last year the region purchased about $15 billion worth of U.S. goods.

Many Democrats argue that inadequate worker rights provisions in the agreement will lead to labor abuses. It is also opposed by lawmakers from sugar beet and sugar cane-growing areas, and others who link free trade to America's soaring trade deficits.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the fact that GOP House leaders haven't yet brought the bill up could be a sign that it lacks the votes.

"I can't really speak with authority on the number of Republican votes that are 'no' on CAFTA, but I hear that it is a significant number," she told reporters. "I know that there are only a small number of Democrats who would be supporting it, so I think they are in trouble on CAFTA."