By  on November 1, 2007

WASHINGTON — A bill that would pressure China to raise the value of its currency and help level competition with the U.S. textile industry is off the Congressional agenda for this year.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) blamed the delay on House leaders who set a Nov. 16 deadline for action on any nonspending-related legislation. The timetable is intended to clear the schedule for consideration of unfinished spending bills that fund the government.

"This is the first time I'm saying publicly that we will have to look...next year, but it's not because we don't want it considered; it's because the legislative timetable...would not allow us to legislate anything after Nov. 16," Rangel told reporters.

The deadline will also force the committee to delay consideration of trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, Rangel said.

The U.S. textile industry has lobbied for legislation that would impose higher tariffs on imports from China if that nation failed to revalue its currency. Producers argue that China undervalues the currency by as much as 40 percent, putting U.S. products at a competitive price disadvantage and forcing them to cut jobs and close factories.

Apparel importers, who brought in $31.7 billion worth of apparel from China for the year ended Aug. 31, oppose higher tariffs on Chinese imports, which would increase their costs.

The Bush administration, under the direction of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., has taken a path of diplomacy with the Chinese, prodding them to revalue their currency through dialogue, rather than threatening penalties.

China has increased the value of the yuan by about 9 percent since July 2005, arguing reform of its monetary policies cannot be done quickly.

Rangel spoke with reporters after his committee passed a trade agreement with Peru that would make permanent duty free benefits for U.S. apparel importers and open Peru's market to U.S. exports. The full House is expected to vote on the measure next week.

Many proposed free trade bills, including those with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, have divided the Democratic caucus and House leaders are not sure they have enough votes to pass them before the end of the year.There is widespread opposition on Capitol Hill, as well as from organized labor, to the Colombia pact because of the assassinations of labor leaders in that country and paramilitary actions. The accord with South Korea faces obstacles because of barriers to U.S. exports of beef and autos, and the agreement with Panama has been criticized because of the recent election of Pedro Miguel Gonzalez as president of Panama's National Assembly. Gonzalez has been indicted in the U.S. in the murder of a U.S. soldier in Panama in 1992 and the attempted murder of another soldier. He was acquitted by a jury in Panama.

In a separate trade development, the House voted 264-157 to pass a bill that would overhaul the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which gives federal assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of international trade.

The bill's prospects are uncertain in the Senate and President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation. The House vote failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority to override a veto.

The Trade and Globalization Assistance Act would reauthorize the trade assistance program for five years. The legislation would initially double funding for retraining programs to $440 million and increase it to $660 million in 2010. It would expand the program to include service workers and give industries and communities a chance to apply for federal aid.

The bill would make it easier to receive benefits for workers who lose their jobs when their firms shift production to countries such as China and India that don't have free trade pacts with the U.S.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said on the floor Wednesday that the trade adjustment bill represents a "departure from the status quo.

"Unfortunately, trade policy has focused more on opening new markets and has dismissed the real consequences of those who lose their jobs as well as communities across America that are hard hit," she said.

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