By  on May 24, 1994

WASHINGTON -- Today's anticipated announcement by Vice President Al Gore that the Clinton administration favors granting free trade benefits similar to Mexico's to Caribbean apparel makers has drawn an expected set of reactions.

There was praise from the American Apparel Manufacturers Association -- many of whose members have product assembled in the Caribbean under 807 programs allowing duty breaks -- but not free trade -- for imports made of fabric cut in the U.S. On the other hand, the International Mass Retailers Association warned that the yarn-forward origin rules -- under which Mexico receives its free-trade benefits -- would limit the product coming from the Caribbean. Under NAFTA, apparel eligible for free trade must, for the most part, be made of fabric made in North America. Meanwhile, the unions saw the idea only costing more jobs.

As reported, sources said at the weekend that Gore would make the announcement today that NAFTA parity for the Caribbean would be included in the implementing legislation for the GATT Uruguay Round treaty for liberalization of world trade. He is expected to do so at a news conference with seven Central American presidents in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The GATT bill is slated to be sent to Congress Thursday.

Stuart Boswell, the American Apparel Manufacturers Association president, said its members "are delighted and commend the administration, since we're strongly for parity." He declined further comment "until we read the legislation."

Robin Lanier, IMRA's international trade vice president, said NAFTA's origin rules will mean Caribbean makers will "forever be joined at the hip with U.S. textile producers." The makers, she said, "will be limited in their ability to produce clothing of good quality at prices people want."

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