FINAL GATT QUOTA PLAN LEAVES INDUSTRY RILED UP

Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON--Despite the pleas of retailers and importers for faster quota elimination, the administration Monday issued its revised, final plan for phasing out quotas on apparel and textile imports through 2004, making only a few changes from its initial proposals.
Categories that saw shifts in the schedule were bras, small-sized children's wear and cotton socks. But these were hardly enough for the retailers and importers, who were busy Monday blasting both the final plan as well as the government officials who drew it up.
One importer spokeswoman called the administration's plan to end quota "Kafkaesque." A spokesman for retailers said the merchants were "disturbed" by the government's hesitancy to help consumers.
The Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, in a Federal Register notice, announced it was accelerating from January 2002 to January 1998 the elimination of import quotas on bras. It also pushed ahead from January 2004 to January 1998 quota elimination on children's wear in sizes below 2T (toddler), while quota elimination on cotton socks was delayed from January 1998 to either January 2002 or January 2005, depending upon market conditions in the years.
The agency, as part of the GATT Uruguay Round pact, was charged by Congress with developing a staged plan for ending the textile and apparel import quotas of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement over a 10-year period that began this past Jan. 1. The first phase, announced last fall, integrated no items that were under U.S. quota restraints. CITA in March held a day-long hearing at which it heard requests from U.S. textile and apparel manufacturers, retailers and importers, to speed up or slow down the quota phaseout process.
The next day controversy erupted, though when Mickey Kantor, the U.S. Trade Representative, told a reporter "There may be some technical changes, but no changes of any consequence" in the integration schedule.
Rita Hayes, CITA's chairman, and the Commerce Department's deputy assistant secretary for textiles, apparel and consumer goods, said Monday in a prepared statement: "I take very seriously the concerns expressed on all sides of this issue. CITA has designed and implemented a decision process for integrating the second and third phases that is unprecedented in its transparency and thoroughness."
Hayes added the administration in its mission statement to Congress on the GATT pact "made a commitment that 'integration of the most sensitive products will be deferred until the end of the 10-year period.' We have honored that commitment."
The American Textile Manufacturers Institute alone among major interests, took no issue with CITA's final product integration list, with Walter Elisha, its president, as well as Springs Industries chairman, saying it "is a fair and balanced way to deal with import-sensitive goods."
Larry Martin, the American Apparel Manufacturers Association president, said its members were disappointed CITA didn't speed up quota elimination for yarn-dyed shirts and children's wear, size 2T and above, but maintained "overall, the administration did a very good job of carrying out Congress's intentions."
The National Retail Federation "applauds the modest gains made in [bras] and children's wear" quota elimination, said Robert Hall, its government affairs vice president. "However, we are quite disturbed about the administration's hesitance in helping all U.S. consumers--particularly low- and middle-income ones," Hall said. "The administration's action say to consumers they must wait 10 years to see any real benefits."
The NRF has maintained that the integration list was constructed in such a way that 89 percent of apparel products and 68 percent of textiles that have been under quota will remain under quota until Dec. 31, 2004, after which all quota is to be eliminated. This, argues the NRF, will give U.S. producers reason to ask Congress for quota extensions.
Hayes, in a Federal Register notice, said CITA lived up to its GATT mandate that 49 percent of all textile-apparel trade be quota-free before the end of the period.
Robin Lanier, International Mass Retail Association international trade vice president, claimed CITA's final integration list was biased toward U.S. makers.
"This is Kafkaesque if nothing else," said Laura Jones, executive director, the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. "The whole idea was to liberalize world trade and CITA's integration list puts this off for at least another 10 years." Hayes said the quota elimination changes "are not minor and to say that this will hurt the consumer is wrong."
Hayes added in a telephone interview: "There is a trade deficit in textiles and apparel of $32 billion and apparel imports total $43.6 billion. So to say I'm denying the consumer is not true. I'm living up to my commitment that this administration made to Congress.
"Regardless of how many quotas are eliminated, the retailers are not going to be happy; they will say we didn't do enough. What the retailers and importers want is a three-year phaseout. This is a 10-year phaseout."

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