Three Washington state congressmen said yesterday they'll vote against a trade deal with Central America, joining what appears to be growing...

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Three Washington state congressmen said yesterday they’ll vote against a trade deal with Central America, joining what appears to be growing resistance to the treaty.

Democrats Brian Baird, Adam Smith and Rick Larsen ended months of indecision by announcing their opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Their stand marks a significant shift for the Washington delegation, which has largely supported trade deals over the years. Washington bills itself as the nation’s most trade-dependent state, with one in three jobs directly linked to global trade.

But the state’s nine House members are divided on this deal, which would topple trade barriers between the U.S. and a collection of small, mostly agricultural countries: Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

Adam Smith: Not enough of a “fair shake” for workers.

Two of the state’s six House Democrats — Jim McDermott of Seattle and Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island — are still undecided. So is Republican Cathy McMorris of Spokane. CAFTA’s supporters are Republicans Dave Reichert of Bellevue and Doc Hastings of Pasco, and Democrat Norm Dicks of Bremerton. Sen. Maria Cantwell is undecided and Sen. Patty Murray couldn’t be reached.

Baird, Smith and Larsen said they remain strong supporters of free trade but see problems in the proposed treaty.

No vote is scheduled, but one could be held this month. Under so-called fast-track rules, Congress votes to ratify or reject CAFTA. But that process has stalled for nearly a year. Other trade deals have passed within three months.

“I hope we defeat it and they can come back to us with a serious proposal,” said Baird of Olympia.

Opponents said CAFTA weakens protection for workers and the environment in Central America. They also took the Bush administration to task for failing to invest in the U.S. economy to help U.S. workers deal with job loss here and compete in the global economy. “It’s become increasingly clear that the administration really has no interest in supporting the public investment that’s necessary to support the U.S. in the global economy,” said Larsen of Lake Stevens.

The three Washington legislators were among Democrats and some Republicans who have joined labor groups, environmentalists and U.S. sugar lobbyists in declaring opposition.

“I do not feel the president’s trade and economic policies have done enough to give workers a fair shake,” said Smith of Tacoma. “The president’s policy is to let business be business and everything will take care of itself.”

Smith attended a news conference yesterday with leaders of the New Democrat Coalition, a group that has helped organize CAFTA opposition. Last week, Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Walter Jones, R-N.C., formed a caucus that they said “brought more than 150 Republicans and Democrats, senators and House members, and business and labor groups together speaking out against CAFTA.”

Supporters of the treaty said failure to ratify CAFTA would resonate deeply in the global-trading system, possibly derailing efforts to secure a larger agreement at the World Trade Organization.

“I’m disappointed,” said Bill Center, president of the Washington Center on International Trade. “These six relatively poor countries made major concessions to earn this entry into the global market. Now we’re turning around and saying ‘No’ to them. That’s going to be a very bad signal to poor countries all around the world.”

Alwyn Scott 206-464-3329