"The Bush Administration has made bilateral and regional free-trade agreements (FTAs) more important elements of U.S. trade policy, a strategy known as 'competitive liberalization.' This strategy, it argues, will push forward trade liberalization simultaneously on bilateral, regional and multilateral fronts. It is meant to spur trade negotiations by liberalizing trade with countries willing to join FTAs, and to pressure other countries to negotiate multilaterally. Critics contend, however, that the accent on regional and bilateral negotiations undermines the multilateral forum and increases the risk of trade diversion away from competitive countries not in the trade bloc. The controversial CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) -- an agreement signed with the five countries of the Central American Common Market (CACM) and the Dominican Republic -- was passed by the House on July 28, 2005, by a vote of 217- 215. Later in the day, the Senate approved the House version of the legislation to implement CAFTA, and President Bush signed it on August 2 (P.L. 109-53). In December 2005, Congress approved implementing legislation for the Bahrain FTA and President Bush signed the legislation of January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169). The United States is participating in several other regional and bilateral trade negotiations. Agreements were concluded and became effective during the 108th Congress with Australia, Chile, and Singapore. Also during the 108th Congress, an agreement with Morocco was approved, but it did not take effect until January 1, 2006. Negotiations are underway with Panama, Thailand, three Andean nations (Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador), and the United Arab Emirates. Negotiations have recently concluded with Peru, Colombia, and Oman. USTR announced the launch of FTA negotiations with South Korea on February 3, 2006, and with Malaysia on March 8. Several other trade initiatives are under discussion, including a U.S.-Middle East FTA and an FTA with countries in southeast Asia."
CRS Issue Brief for Congress, IB10123
U.S. Department of State: http://fpc.state.gov/