By  on February 14, 1994

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Jennifer Hillman, the chief U.S. textile negotiator, said Saturday that Caribbean nations could receive new trade benefits to compete with apparel manufacturers in Mexico aided by NAFTA.

Speaking at the American Apparel Manufacturers Association's annual meeting here, Hillman also said China has not yet made sufficient progress on human rights issues to get renewal of its Most Favored Nation trade status.

She said the U.S. is having "very extensive dialogue" with the Chinese and will make a decision on MFN renewal in May.

Should MFN be denied, U.S.import duties on Chinese apparel would rise significantly.

The AAMA supports legislation that would grant the Caribbean nations trade parity with Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA allows much Mexican-made apparel to enter the U.S. duty-free. Clothing shipments from the Caribbean, under the 807 programs, get only partial reductions on duties, as did Mexico's garment makers before NAFTA.

"We want very much to work with you on this issue," Hillman told the U.S. apparel makers. "We know very well how important it is to you."

Later, she declined to elaborate on what kind of benefits could be granted Caribbean manufacturers.

Hillman, the last speaker at the three-day meeting held at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, noted that the Administration is a couple of months away from making a decision on the parity issue.

Stating that 807 programs, such as Special Access, have produced a trade surplus with the Caribbean for the U.S., Hillman said, "Many [U.S. apparel firms] have done very, very well in terms of establishing operations in the Caribbean, and clearly the Administration wants to ensure the stability and the integrity of those operations."

She added, however, that the Caribbean Basin Initiative nations would have to open their markets to U.S. goods and impose other trade reforms before the White House would endorse legislation granting them further benefits.

Hillman said parity for the Caribbean faces other obstacles: "Some in the labor community would clearly regard both NAFTA and the CBI and 807 parity as the active pushing of [U.S.] jobs overseas." Despite such opposition, she said, "At the end of the day there will be a recognition that the CBI is special. It's been a good relationship and it deserves to be maintained, strengthened and enhanced."

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