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SENATORS WARY OF CENTRAL AMERICAN TRADE PACT

The administration's proposed free trade agreement with Central American nations was met with a barrage of objections from senators Wednesday, signaling a hard road ahead.

Tough questions about the Central American Free Trade Agreement came from both free-trade Democrats and Republicans whose support the administration needs for the pact with Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the agreement would destroy U.S. sugar, saying, "You've just negotiated away another industry." Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., meanwhile, warned increased CAFTA sugar exports could set a precedent for future trade deals with Argentina and Brazil.

The Senate Finance Committee's top Democrat, Max Baucus of Montana, generally backs trade pacts, but he expressed concern for his state's beet growers.

Acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier strongly defended the deal, citing estimates that it would nearly double current U.S. agriculture exports to the region, to about $3 billion a year. While almost all goods from the six nations now enter the United States duty free, CAFTA would result in 80 percent of U.S. industrial exports and more than half of farm exports becoming duty-free immediately, he said.

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