By  on May 18, 1994

WASHINGTON -- While the debate mounts over the broader issues of the GATT Uruguay Round treaty, the nation's textile and apparel manufacturers, importers and retailers will be busy trying to shape the implementing legislation to their advantage.

Perhaps most important to all sectors is what federal agency will be responsible for managing implementation of the Uruguay Round, which calls for the dismantling of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement over 10 years.

All agree the body chosen for this task will ultimately have great power over what fibers, textiles and apparel are made in the U.S., which are imported and what prices they will carry at retail -- especially apparel.

Here are some specifics: GATT provides that beginning Jan. 1, 1995, quotas are to be eliminated on 16 percent of textiles and apparel in world trade -- most of which are covered by the MFA. On Jan. 1, 1998, another 17 percent of the MFA products must move quota-free in world trade, and another 18 percent on Jan. 1, 2002. Then, on Jan. 1, 2005, protective quotas will be eliminated completely.

In roughly the same 10-year staging sequence, the growth rate for quotas that remain will increase by 16 percent, then 25 percent and finally 27 percent. For example, say the quota growth rate is 10 percent now; at the beginning of the MFA phaseout, the growth rate will increase to 11.6 percent. In the second stage, the 11.6 percent growth rate will increase by 25 percent, which means the growth rate will become 14.5 percent.

Critically, though, the Uruguay Round agreement leaves it up to each country to decide what textile and apparel products are assigned to each stage for quota elimination. Domestic textile and apparel interests assert that the inter-agency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements should be empowered to make such decisions for the U.S., given its 25 years as a textile regulatory agency.

U.S. retailers and importers argue the International Trade Commission should get the nod, asserting that CITA operates in secret and is captive of domestic producers.

"Historically, retailers and importers find out about decisions after the fact, and we hope a new system can be set up so we can petition [the U.S.] and it is required to publish its decisions and give reasons for them," said Robert Hall, a National Retail Federation vice president and lobbyist.

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