By  on June 27, 1994

WASHINGTON -- The current quest to give the Caribbean Basin Initiative countries the same trade benefits that Mexico now has under the six-month-old North American Free Trade Agreement may die here quietly -- without a major battle ever being fought.

The Clinton administration has proposed that this CBI parity be included in the implementing legislation for the GATT Uruguay Round agreement for liberalization of worldwide trade. But there are many who question the administration's commitment. They feel the White House has just paid lip service to the idea to placate U.S. investors in the Caribbean and won't fight to keep CBI parity in the GATT legislation if Congress wants to remove it. While that gives opponents of parity some peace of mind, it's driving proponents crazy.

"There will be extreme dismay if the administration vacillates in its support," said Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.), prime backer of a parity bill in the Senate. "I would like to see them be more assertive."

He said he intends to find out how committed the White House really is.

Vice President Al Gore made the announcement last month in Honduras that the administration planned to include its CBI parity proposal in the GATT legislation. The administration proposed that apparel assembled in CBI countries from U.S. fabric be permitted to enter the U.S. duty-free, on a par with Mexico's. The Caribbean is already a key supplier of apparel under 807 programs, which allow apparel sewn in the Caribbean from U.S.-cut fabrics to be imported under tariffs collected only on value added.

In return for this free-trade status, CBI countries would have one year to meet international intellectual property rights laws, and would have to agree to meet international labor standards and enact environmental protection regulations.

The draft legislation was delivered to Capitol Hill in early June, where its detractors immediately blasted it. Because Congress is so preoccupied with the health care debate, however, proponents -- who include the 25-member Florida delegation, the 40 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the 18 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- don't have much of a forum to tout the idea.

As Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Trade Subcommittee, said, "No one's really thought about it, but it doesn't have much support anyway."

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