House Approves Bush Trade Pact With Peru

The House on Thursday passed a free trade pact with Peru, bringing President Bush to the brink of his first trade victory since Democrats took control of Congress.

The House voted 285-132 to approve the agreement, which was revamped earlier this year to include groundbreaking labor and environmental provisions.

The Senate is expected to give final congressional approval to the deal by the end of the year. It locks in Peru's duty-free access to the U.S. market, while phasing out Peru's tariffs on U.S. agricultural and manufactured goods.

Supporters predict a big boost to U.S.-Peru trade, which totaled about $8.8 billion last year. Critics say it will move U.S. jobs overseas and depress wages at home.

The Peru free trade agreement is the first of four trade deals Bush wants Congress to approve before he leaves office in early 2009. The remaining three with Colombia, Panama and South Korea all face challenges.

The bipartisan support for the Peru agreement contrasts with the Bush administration's narrow Republican-driven victory two years ago on a free trade accord with Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

The House approved that pact by a vote of 217-215 after a fierce battle ending with then-House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi denouncing the agreement as "a step backward for workers in Central America and a job killer here at home."

But Pelosi, who is now speaker of the House, said the Peru agreement "rises to the level of acceptance" because of a bipartisan agreement reached earlier this year that strengthened labor and environmental provisions of the pact.

"If you're ever going to support any trade agreement, I would think this would be the easiest one to do," Pelosi said during debate on Wednesday, adding that she did not want the Democratic party to be viewed "as anti-trade."