TEXTILE BILL AIMS TO OPEN MARKETS, CUT TRANSSHIPMENT

Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON--Domestic textile industry officials, organized labor and the industry's Capitol Hill champions are rallying behind a multi-part textile bill introduced Thursday that aims to open world markets to U.S. textile and apparel products while clamping down on illegal textile transshipment and other textile trade law violations.
As reported, the bill has been drafted by Rep. John Spratt (D., S.C.), former House Textile Caucus chairman and its prime author; Rep. Howard Coble (R., N.C.), currently chairman of the caucus; L.F. Payne (D., Va,), a caucus member, and Rep. Richard Burr (R., N.C.). They say it aims to cover issues that will become more crucial as world trade becomes increasingly liberal under the provisions of the GATT Uruguay Round.
While backers acknowledge it isn't likely to see congressional action this year, its bipartisan support boosts its chances. Also, the measure was drafted so that parts could be considered separately, which may increase the odds of passage.
"Symbolically it's important that word gets out that there is substantial bipartisan support for this," said Coble. So far there are close to 50 cosponsors, including six members of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade matters and could expedite passage.
The Clinton administration has reviewed the bill but has not endorsed it, said Spratt. But Spratt was quick to point out the bill was not meant to slight the efforts of the administration to crack down on textile trade abuses and open markets for domestic products.
Industry officials crammed into the Capitol Hill press conference said they planned to lobby for its passage. As William Farley, chairman and chief executive officer of Fruit of the Loom Inc., said, "We already know we support this measure; now it's time to decide how we'll get it passed."
Others at the press conference included Roger Milliken, chairman of Milliken & Co.; James M. Fitzgibbons, chief executive officer of Fieldcrest Cannon; Jim Leonard, manager, economic analysis, Burlington Industries Inc., and Carlos Moore, executive vice president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
The ATMI government relations board met Thursday afternoon to plot strategy on the plan. The bill also is backed by the National Cotton Council, Springs Industries Inc., and the National Knitwear and Sportswear Association.
The various elements of the bill would:
* Require the U.S. Trade Representative to secure market access for U.S. textile and apparel products when negotiating textile agreements with countries that aren't members of the World Trade Organization.
* Establish a Special 301 list of "priority foreign countries" that deny fair access to U.S. products. Designated countries would become the subjects of a Section 301 investigation. Similar procedures already exist under a Special 301 for intellectual property rights.
* Increase spending on industry research by applying penalties for unfair trade practices to a research account.
* Require USTR to negotiate textile agreements with non-WTO countries where imports exceed $100 million annually. It also limits quota growth under these bilaterals. This would apply to China, the former Soviet states and Southeast Asia.
* Establish a strict, increasing penalty structure for countries that don't attempt to prevent illegal transshipments and for countries that are used as transit points for transshipment.
* Require Customs to initiate an investigation if it suspects transshipping. It also creates a Division of Textile Enforcement in Customs in which agents would work exclusively on textile and apparel trade laws.
* Set standards of proof for the Committee for Textile Agreements to use in determining whether transshipping has occurred, and permits CITA to use a less-restrictive standard when countries don't cooperate.
* Double fines for violation of textile trade law and further increase fines for violations that circumvent textile quotas. For first-time violators, fines would be doubled from current law. Those caught violating textile trade law a second time would be penalized under the "gross negligence" category based on amount of duty lost or the value of the goods. Third-time violators would be fined up to 300 percent of the value of the goods.
While importers have said the bill isn't needed because the industry has adequate protection under a soon-to-be-implemented rule of origin change--shifting country of origin for quota purposes from where a garment is cut to where it is sewn--a congressional aide who worked on the bill argued that if retailers and importers play by the rules, the measure won't affect them.
"This is not a protectionist bill," Spratt contended. "It does not roll back quotas or block imports from entering our markets. Our bill simply says to foreigners, if you want to trade with us, you've got to open your markets to our textile and apparel goods."
Evelyn Dubrow, UNITE's vice president and legislative director of UNITE, the textile and apparel workers union, another backer of the plan, said the measure would "give an equal voice at the table for workers." She said she favors swift enactment of the bill, but noted that in the past it has taken more than one two-year session of Congress to get a vote on textile legislation.

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