By  on April 25, 1994

WASHINGTON -- Although Richard M. Nixon will be remembered by most people primarily for the Watergate scandal that forced him from office, he was probably the best friend the U.S. textile and apparel industries ever had in the White House.

Nixon died Friday night at New York University-Cornell Medical Center, New York, where he had been hospitalized since suffering a stroke on April 18. He was 81. Current and former textile and apparel industry officials said their standing with a president never has been as good since he resigned office in August 1974.

"Richard Nixon championed our industry's cause in recognizing the impact that imports were having on U.S. jobs and production," said Carlos Moore, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute's executive vice president. Moore, who came to ATMI in 1980 after years as a U.S. trade negotiator, recalled that Nixon worked closely with the association to conclude the first bilateral textile-apparel agreements with Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea in 1971, followed by the Multi-Fiber Arrangement in late 1973.

Seth Bodner, the National Knitwear and Sportswear Association's executive director, said these pacts fulfilled pledges Nixon made during the 1968 presidential campaign as part of his so-called Southern Strategy.

"The commitment had been made to Southern textile people that if elected, Nixon would extend the concept of the Long Term Agreement [regulating cotton apparel imports] to wool and synthetic fibers," said Bodner, who worked in the Nixon White House on trade matters, and in 1972 became an assistant Commerce Department secretary for textiles.

Bodner -- who, with Anthony Jurich, led the MFA negotiations -- also recalled that Nixon strengthened an interagency textile body, which came to be the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, by eliminating provisions that, in essence, required four federal agencies to agree on policy and enforcement before action could be taken.

"This meant that CITA could take action unless three of the agencies objected," he said.

"The bottom line is that with Nixon in the White House there was a bias towards making decisions to establish controls on imports to benefit domestic producers and it also meant that negotiators were significantly less generous in their negotiations," Bodner said. "It was no accident that because of Nixon's determination there was a dramatic slowdown in [import] growth."Jurich, who today heads an Alexandria, Va., trade consulting firm, said the Nixon-inspired plan to slow imports via the MFA averted what would "have been a doubling of imports within a few more years." Although import levels today have more than surpassed that mark, Jurich said the Nixon plan "bought more time, during which the domestic market grew," benefiting U.S. manufacturers.

He also maintained that the Nixon-led import controls on what had been the Big Four U.S. textile and apparel suppliers had other, political benefits, since numerous other Asian and Pacific nations became major U.S. suppliers.

Nixon, of course, is also remembered as the president who "opened China," which went on to become the U.S.'s largest single supplier of imported apparel and footwear.

"He started the ball rolling," said Laura Jones executive director, U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. "It took a lot of courage in those days to go to China. For us, he opened up the world. I think he will be remembered for his foreign policy and that he was the first president to open up China. I suspect he would still be a supporter of MFN for China in terms of the current debate."

--J.O.

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