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Rep. Paul Ryan Seen as Free-Trade Friend

The voting record of Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick was hailed by importers and apparel brands on Monday but stirred concern in the textile industry.

WASHINGTON — Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), selected as running mate and vice presidential pick by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has a solid pro-trade voting record in Congress, which was hailed by importers and apparel brands on Monday but stirred concern in the U.S. textile industry.

Ryan, who is cast as a controversial figure in Congress, notably because of his aggressive plan to dramatically cut government spending and overhaul Medicare and other entitlement programs, has not been vocal on trade issues but he has been supportive.

He has voted for all the free-trade deals before him during his seven terms as a congressman, including recent pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, and the controversial Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005, which was considered a difficult vote and passed by a narrow margin.

“On paper, he is a very strong free trader and it will be very interesting to see how it plays in the presidential campaign,” said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

Burke said Ryan has voted on all but one trade-related measure — reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which makes export financing available to small businesses — that the AAFA supported during his time in Congress.

The only area where Ryan appears to clearly differ from Romney is on China and its currency practices. Romney has said he will penalize China for undervaluing its currency if he is elected, while Ryan voted against legislation in the House that would have essentially penalized China over its currency policies.

“It is contrary to what Gov. Romney has been very supportive of,” Burke said, noting that the AAFA is opposed to penalizing China over its currency. “It will be interesting if that becomes an issue and how they will meld it in the campaign. In the presidential campaign, the only position that counts is what the presidential candidate says and the vice president has to go along with it.”

“I do think he is solidly in the camp of market-opening initiatives and [knows] the importance of trade agreements,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “With politics driving some votes more than substance, the fact that he still voted for it is a good thing.”

Hughes said the trade community has not found anything specific in Ryan’s plan to slash government spending that would impact the trade agencies, the Commerce Department and U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.

However, Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said the textile industry is concerned about potentially sharp budget cuts to those agencies if the Romney-Ryan ticket wins.

“You can assume he will be an aggressive advocate for spending reduction and commerce and USTR certainly wouldn’t be exempt,” Tantillo said. “We are very concerned about the fact that we [might] have a free-trade agreement with a country like Vietnam at a time when our ability to enforce these agreements is being severely diluted by funding cutbacks.”

Tantillo said Ryan’s “failure to support” legislation that would prod China to revalue its currency is also a concern to the textile industry.