HOUSE UNIT SIDESTEPS CBI CONSIDERATION

Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON--A plan long sought by the apparel industry to broaden trade benefits to the Caribbean was pulled Tuesday from consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, a move that could mean it's dead for the year.
Opposition by some segments of the textile industry to several provisions, along with intensive lobbying by the Ross Perot grass roots group United We Stand, were cited as among the reasons Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Bill Archer (R., Tex.) decided not to complete work on the measure Tuesday.
"I hope we can reach a bipartisan resolution," Archer told reporters. "It's not dropped, we need to work out a compromise."
There was some confusion, however, on whether the trade plan would be added later this month to the massive budget reconciliation package, where it was slated to be included. If not included in the reconciliation package, the measure would have to be considered separately. This would probably push into next year and also considerably diminish its prospects of passage.
Opponents of the plan, including Reps. L.F. Payne (D., Va.) and John Spratt (D., S.C.), declared it permanently out of the reconciliation package. Michael Gale, government relations director for the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, however, along with Ron Sorini, senior vice president of government relations and international development for Fruit of the Loom, said the measure was being amended and was expected to be in reconciliation later this year. Sorini has been opposing the plan as it stands, seeking to make it more protective of products that use U.S. fabric.
Gale said amendments were being drafted on provisions in the bill relating to quota adjustment; tariff preference levels, which permit duty-free import of fabric that originates outside the U.S., and safeguards against import surges.
The American Textile Manufacturers Institute executive board is set to meet Thursday in Memphis, at the request of Fruit of the Loom chairman and chief executive officer William Farley, to weigh taking a stance on CBI parity. Fruit of the Loom is expected to propose that the parity plan be amended to prohibit duty-free import of fabric made outside the U.S.
Efforts last year to include the Caribbean parity plan in the GATT Uruguay Round failed because of the absence of congressional support. A similar effort in 1993 to include it in the North American Free Trade Agreement also failed.
The plan, which would extend similar trade privileges to the 24 Caribbean countries as those that are given to Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement, has been the object of intense lobbying on Capitol Hill in the past few weeks. Several dozen apparel manufacturers lobbied Congress last week in favor of the bill. Sorini, along with Farley, met with more than 50 members of Congress, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in the past week urging that the plan either be amended or pulled out of the reconciliation package.
Roger Milliken, chairman of Milliken & Co., also has been weighing in on the CBI debate and has been contacting members of Congress, urging that it be debated separately on the floor rather than be included in reconciliation.
United We Stand mounted a campaign with callers from every state telephoning members of Congress, said Betty Montgomery, UWS executive director in South Carolina.
Seth Bodner, executive director of the National Sportswear and Knitwear Association, also wrote a letter to Archer stating the measure is "bad legislation to benefit a few large companies involved in offshore sewing... It would be at the expense of hundreds of small and medium-sized American apparel companies and tens of thousands of their employees presently sewing in the U.S."
Yarn Spinners Association executive vice president wrote Gingrich that the bill would "cost jobs in the capital-intensive sales yarn sector of the U.S. textile industry."
Spratt and Payne gained the support of 65 House members in a letter to Archer last week urging that the Caribbean plan be withheld from the reconciliation package. This packagee is expected to be considered by Congress by the end of September.
In a press conference Tuesday, Spratt and Payne said their prime objections to the bill centered on its nonreciprocal provisions that would give Caribbean nations access to the U.S. market but would deny the U.S. access to Caribbean markets.
The two predicted the parity plan would ultimately be debated by the House.
"Trade measures have to be brought forward on their own," Spratt said. "I'm not sure this is dead altogether, but with a freestanding bill, the opposition would win on the floor. The Caribbean has enough trade advantages. They don't need any more."
--Fairchild News Service

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