CBI-PARITY DRAMA SEEN NEARING CONCLUSION SOON

Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON--The cliffhanger over broadened trade benefits for the Caribbean could wrap up this week, when the Clinton administration formally submits to Congress, as expected, the implementing bill for the GATT Uruguay Round.
House and Senate negotiators turned the matter over to the White House last week when they could not reach agreement on whether to include in the GATT bill the plan to give Caribbean Basin Initiative countries the same textile and apparel benefits accorded Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Rep. Sam Gibbons (D., Fla.), a top advocate of CBI parity and acting chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, held fast against objections from the Senate, led by Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D., N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Proponents of broader CBI benefits currently seem more optimistic than in the past that they will prevail. As one industry lobbyist put it, "This administration has done a lot to surprise me, but if they did not include CBI parity in GATT, it would shock me."
Evidence that the administration favors it is plentiful:
President Clinton promised leaders of both the Caribbean and Central America that he wanted to expand trade benefits in the region.
Vice President Al Gore announced the administration was including the initiative in its original draft of GATT implementing legislation during a trip last spring to Honduras.
During last-minute negotiations between the House and Senate last week on the congressional recommendation, Gore lobbied senators urging them to support CBI.
Perhaps, most significantly, the administration is in the midst of a foreign policy initiative in Haiti and is looking for ways to strengthen ties with other Caribbean countries because of their assistance in the U.S. Haiti occupation and their handling of Haitian and Cuban refugees.
Because the attention of the U.S. is focused on the Caribbean now that U.S. troops are attempting to restore democracy to Haiti, Gibbons, whose home state of Florida has a heavy stake in apparel trade with the Caribbean, thinks this is the most opportune time for his long-hoped-for initiative to be passed into law.
"I'm morally committed to the fact that folks down there need a better break," he said. "They have been unkindly treated by nature and their political past, and they are broken up into small geographic and political interests. They should have access to our markets, and the more access they have to ours, the more we will have to their markets."
Gibbons also speaks openly about what he calls the ultimate decline of the U.S. apparel industry.
"U.S. garment jobs are going to be exported eventually either to the Far East, Mexico or the Caribbean," Gibbons said in an interview. "If they go to the Far East, we get nothing for our textile industries. If we get CBI parity, then when the jobs go to the Caribbean or Mexico, we at least get the textile sales."
--Fairchild News Service

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