Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON--Fruit of the Loom chairman William Farley has hired one of the biggest guns in town, former presidential candidate and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, to lead the company's fight against a House plan to extend trade benefits to the Caribbean.
Dole, now a partner with the prominent Washington lobbying firm Verner Liipfert, was hired several weeks ago without fanfare to help with strategy in Fruit's campaign, Ron Sorini, the company's senior vice president government relations and international development said. News of Dole's assignment was carried Monday in the Journal of Commerce.
"He's a great strategist," Sorini said. Dole, who built a reputation as a deal maker in his more than 30 years in the Senate, is setting up meetings for Fruit of the Loom officials with his former colleagues and is advising Farley on his campaign. This week is a critical one in the battle over Caribbean trade privileges, since House and Senate negotiators are expected to begin serious negotiations on resolving differences in mammoth packages to balance the federal budget.
The House budget bill includes a $216 million provision to grant the 24 Caribbean island states benefits similar to those given Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The plan would just grant the benefits for a year, but advocates have said that once they're granted, even just temporarily, it would be relatively easy to extend them for a longer term in the future. The Senate bill does not include the trade proposal.
Because any provision that costs the government revenue must be offset by a revenue-generating plan, the Caribbean provision is vulnerable as Congressional negotiators look for money to cover other projects.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.) said last week that he was inclined to support the House proposal, which would grant duty-free treatment to Caribbean apparel imports made from U.S. and non-U.S. fabric. Fruit wants to limit the duty-free treatment just to apparel made of U.S. fabric.
Monday, a plant manager from a Fruit of the Loom knitting, dying and bleaching plant in Lott's home state paid a call on him in an attempt to convince him to change his mind. Employment in the plant is about 800, and Fruit expects to increase it to 1,000 by the end of the year.
Dole's record on trade is generally pro-liberalization. In 1992, the last time the Senate voted on China's most-favored-nation status, he voted for it. In 1993, Dole voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also voted for the GATT Uruguay round in 1994, but only after securing the administration's backing for a plan that would enable Congress to withdraw the U.S. from the World Trade Organization if too many disputes are settled against U.S. interests.
Verner Liipfert's influence on trade matters is far ranging. Its partners include former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a Democrat; Lloyd Bentsen, former Treasury Secretary in the first Clinton term and, before that, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; former Democratic Michigan governor Jim Blanchard; former Democratic governor of Hawaii John Waihee; former Democratic governor of Texas Ann Richards; Roy Bowman, former general counsel for the Maritime Administration, and former officials from the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
Meanwhile, on Monday, in other efforts to derail the Caribbean plan, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D., S.C.), along with a bipartisan group of 13 other senators, sent a letter to Senate budget conferees threatening that if the trade plan were included in the budget, they would "seriously consider" opposing the package.
"The NAFTA parity provisions are inappropriate additions to any reconciliation agreement," the letter said.
"Any review of NAFTA parity legislation would be extremely complex, requiring a review of U.S. trade policy and its impact on the textile and apparel industry," it said.
Rep. John Spratt (D., S.C.), top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and a key negotiator, is attempting to eliminate the Caribbean plan on the basis of its cost. He appealed to the Congressional Budget Office to complain about its one-year cost estimate of $216 million. CBO defended its estimate, but added that over five years, Caribbean parity would cost the U.S. $1.2 billion in lost revenue, and over 10 years, it would cost $3.1 billion.
Spratt plans to use this new information as a reason to kill it, a staffer said.
The American Apparel Manufacturers Association, which favors the plan, earlier this year hired Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff and chief Congressional negotiator for President Reagan. Michael Gale, AAMA government relations director, said Dole's entry into the fray would not affect their strategy or hurt their cause. "The merits of our arguments transcend any personality," Gale said.
The AAMA ushered 55 executives from 35 apparel firms around Capitol Hill last week and plans more meetings this week.
Calls to Dole at the offices of Verner Liipvert were not returned.

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