TEXTILE TRADE BILL TO STAGE COMEBACK

Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — The textile trade bill that quickly expired last year is heading back to Capitol Hill.
Although the bill was launched with a group of prominent U.S. textile industry officials on hand at a press conference last June, it never advanced in committee because Republican trade leaders labeled it protectionist and declined to consider it.
Sponsored by Reps. John Spratt (D., S.C.), and Howard Coble (R., N.C.), the legislation would toughen penalties against countries that restrict imports of U.S. textile products or that violate textile trade law.
They plan to reintroduce the bill on April 24.
The measure also is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Ernest Hollings (D., S.C.), Jesse Helms (R., N.C.) and Wendell Ford (D., Ky.).
Backers have acknowledged that the measure is not likely to be considered by the House Ways and Means Committee, the unit for trade matters, and so they are aiming to attach it to a bill, as yet undetermined, that might be moving through the Senate with broader support.
A staffer for one of the bill’s sponsors said that they consider the timing to be just right for the reintroduction because of recent events. Specifically, he cited recent reports that textile transshipping persists and the recently filed lawsuit by the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, charging that The Limited and one of its suppliers, Tarrant Apparel Group, are transshipping garments from China through Hong Kong, the staffer said.
Opposing the bill, Robert Hall, vice president, international trade counsel with the National Retail Federation, questioned the need for the measure, noting that many of the domestic industry’s complaints had been handled during negotiations over the new U.S. bilateral with China.
“Rep. Spratt and the domestic industry made it no secret, when they introduced the bill last year, that China was one of the primary targets,” Hall said. “A number of issues, including transshipments, market access and enforcement were addressed in the bilateral. We see the steeper penalties as well as the push for an industry-specific Super 301 as unnecessary and unwarranted.”
The measure would considerably toughen trade penalties against U.S. trading partners that violate textile trade laws. It would require the administration to seek market-opening measures in exchange for access to the U.S. market; it would double fines for violation of textile trade laws and impose additional fines for circumventing textile quotas. It also would levy stricter penalties for countries that fail to stop illegal transshipments as well as on countries that permit transshipments through their ports. When a country is caught in three cases or more of illegal transshipment, the measure would reduce its quotas by three times the volume of the transshipped goods.
In addition, the measure would create a separate sanction program, similar to Super 301, which is used to sanction trade partners for violation of intellectual property rights. The sanction program would be used for textile trade abuses. The bill also would require Customs to share information about transshipment investigations with the Committee for Implementation of Textile Agreements. Also, the President would be authorized to withdraw trade concessions, such as low-to-zero tariffs permitted under the Generalized System of Preferences or the Caribbean Basin Initiative, from countries that don’t cooperate in transshipment investigations.
The bill also would reinstate Customs’ power to seize goods that are imported into the U.S. under false statements. Also, the administration would be authorized to negotiate textile agreements when imports from countries not members of the World Trade Organization exceed $100 million yearly or are viewed as damaging to the domestic industry.

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