CAFTA Gains 3 House Votes

Three textile-state House members said they plan to support CAFTA, giving the White House some last-minute votes as a House decision looms.

WASHINGTON — Three textile-state House members said Monday they plan to support the Central American Free Trade Agreement, giving the Bush administration a few more last-minute votes as it tries to lock up enough support on the expected vote on the pact this week.

Reps. Bob Inglis (R., S.C.), Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.) and Michael Rogers (R., Ala.) announced the decision to vote for the controversial accord at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Opposition to CAFTA is strong among Southern textile-state lawmakers representing sugar growers and large blocs of Democrats opposed to its labor provisions. Only one of the 13-member North Carolina delegation in the House — GOP Rep. Sue Myrick — has come out for CAFTA.

CAFTA textile-industry opponents, including Milliken & Co., which is located in Inglis’ district, were angered by the three new pro-CAFTA votes, maintaining the administration’s promises to change the agreement could take months and even years to fulfill and may never be realized.

Jock Nash, Washington counsel for Milliken, said the period of time between when CAFTA goes into effect, if the House passes it, and when Congress passes legislation ratifying any changes “could prove fatal to the companies you seek to help with your proposed CAFTA deals.”

GOP leaders are offering several promises in order to gain support. To that end, the House is slated to vote on a China bill today, which is seen as a way to secure undecided House members on CAFTA by addressing concerns about subsidized China imports.

“I think we have gotten some real improvements in this agreement,” Inglis said.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, who also attended the press conference, said: “They wanted to be awfully sure this agreement didn’t have any loopholes and didn’t have any third-country fabric, yarns and elastics coming into the process and having the final product come to our country duty free under CAFTA, so they pushed hard … and we listened … and we responded to close down those potential problems.”

The promises include a proposed change for pocketing fabric to require that it be made by one of the signatory countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic; a commitment from Nicaragua to preserve some $95 million in existing U.S. business, and a revision on a provision that allows a limited amount of woven, denim and wool apparel made in the CAFTA countries from Mexican and Canadian fabric to qualify for duty-free treatment in the U.S.

This story first appeared in the July 26, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Becky Ruby, communications director for Phil Gingrey (R., Ga.), said he is “one small item away” from supporting CAFTA pending confirmation from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.) to bring the amendments to a vote in a “timely manner.”