By  on September 13, 2005

WASHINGTON — A House subcommittee on trade is poised to make decisions on whether to include several bills in a trade package that could have significant ramifications for the fashion industry.

The subcommittee recently closed a comment period and is reviewing what it will include in the omnibus bill, which often has hundreds of provisions attached to it, including measures to suspend duties on a variety of products. Importers, retailers and textiles executives are pressing the committee on several of the proposed bills, which the full House Ways & Means Committee could mark up this fall.

House lawmakers consider several criteria in determining whether to include legislation in such a miscellaneous package, including "the extent to which the bills create a revenue loss, operate retroactively, attract controversy or are not administrable," according to the subcommittee's rules.

In crafting the current measure, there are two potentially controversial bills House members are reviewing: one to prohibit the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements from claiming a "foreign affairs exemption" from the Administrative Procedures Act, and another to repeal the Byrd Amendment, which allows for the collection of tariffs on foreign goods when they are sold in the U.S. for less than they are in their home country, but was ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization.

The most friction between importers and the textile industry centers around the bill introduced in the House by Rep. Jerry Weller (R., Ill.) seeking to prohibit CITA from claiming the foreign affairs exemption to the rule-making requirements under the APA. Retailers and importers are pressing to attach the bill, which they claim would open up the rule-making process of the committee to more public scrutiny. But the domestic industry, accusing importers of attempting to interfere with the government's process and block China safeguards, is planning to mount opposition to its inclusion.

CITA was created by an executive order in 1972 to supervise the implementation of all textile trade agreements and subsequently the global system of quotas, which expired at the beginning of the year. It is an interagency committee that includes officials from the Commerce, State, Labor and Treasury Departments, as well as the U.S. Trade Representative's office.

Retailers and importers have repeatedly contended that CITA hides behind the exemption that allows it to formulate rules and procedures outside of the Sunshine Act, and ultimately makes secret decisions that affect billions of dollars worth of apparel imports from around the world. Their renewed focus on CITA's role stems from the Bush administration's imposition of safeguard quotas on $1.9 billion worth of Chinese apparel and textile imports. The administration is trying to hash out a broad import restraint agreement with the Chinese.

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