By  on December 8, 2006

WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators crafted compromise trade legislation Thursday, ending an impasse between two key committee chairmen and reconciling differences in their separate bills.

They planned to put the legislation to a vote despite strong opposition from textile-state lawmakers on trade preferences for Haiti and bipartisan concerns over granting Vietnam elevated trade status.

The House was set to vote on the omnibus bill Thursday night. The measure would provide more certainty to importers making apparel in sub-Saharan Africa, the Andean region, Vietnam and Haiti. Critics, however, said it would threaten to displace millions of dollars in U.S. fabric and yarn exports.

The compromise would grant permanent normal trade relations to Vietnam. It also would extend benefits for expiring trade preference programs for the sub-Saharan African countries, the Andean countries of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, and the generalized system of preferences program. In addition, the legislation would create new and expanded benefits and rules of origin for apparel production in Haiti and suspend and reduce duty on hundreds of imported products that were covered in a miscellaneous tariff bill.

“This is a strong bipartisan compromise package that meets our trade needs and worldwide humanitarian and economic obligations,” Rep. Bill Thomas (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. “It extends a number of important expiring trade incentives for developing countries.’’

If the bill clears the House, it would go to the Senate, where hurdles remain because of opposition to trade provisions for Vietnam and Haiti.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.) disagreed with provisions that would expand duty free benefits to apparel imports from Haiti. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) has stated objections to the Haiti provisions, textile industry sources said.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Gordon Smith (R., Ore.) have made their votes on the provisions for Vietnam contingent on clarifications of a commitment the Bush administration made to Dole and Graham to monitor Vietnamese imports and possibly undertake antidumping cases.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) could try to overcome possible holds on the trade bill by filing a motion for cloture, which would end debate if the motion were supported by at least 60 members. The Senate could vote on the bill this week.

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