WASHINGTON – President Bush's lead official on trade said the Central American Free Trade Agreement (search), or CAFTA, is already in trouble — in part because former free trader John Kerry opposes it.
"It makes it harder to get support from the opposition party," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick (search) said of the deal agreed upon between five democratically elected governments.
Earlier this month, Kerry, the Massachusetts senator who is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said the agreement lacks protections for workers and the environment.
"I will also make sure that we will renegotiate CAFTA to make sure they're in there too," Kerry said earlier about the protections. "If CAFTA were to come to my desk in its current form, it will not be signed."
Democrats in Congress are already declaring the pact dead on arrival and expect Kerry, if he's elected to the White House, to follow through on his pledge.
Bush met Thursday with El Salvador's President Francisco Flores (search), who praised the Bush team's commitment to Central America.
"We have worked very closely with this team ... for the most important economic instrument for our region," said Flores, who added he hopes Kerry will take another look at CAFTA if he's elected.
Top Republicans told Fox News the president won't submit CAFTA for congressional approval this year, in part because GOP support is soft.
"We've got people who are worried to support trade, particularly in an election year, and so we'd lose some in our party," Zoellick said.
Before the presidential campaign, Kerry was a staunch free-trade Democrat but he shifted in the face of trade rhetoric from other Democratic presidential candidates like Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who eventually dropped out of the running.
"Election years are always a difficult time to pursue free trade because politicians are very good at identifying the people who might be threatened by free trade," said Dan Mitchell, an economist with the Heritage Foundation.
But the White House is confident Congress will approve two other free-trade deals with Australia and Morocco this year.
Click here to watch a report by Fox News Channel's Major Garrett.