ATMI RETHINKING CARIBBEAN TRADE BENEFITS POSITION

Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — The American Textile Manufacturers Institute and its members are reevaluating the organization’s stance on expansion of trade benefits to the Caribbean after last week’s closed board meeting, in which ATMI’s advocacy of the plan was questioned by some members.
ATMI members are individually assessing the impact the long-pending proposal would have on their firms. Within a month, the ATMI board is to reconvene to reassess its position, said several people who attended the meeting. The proposal would extend trade benefits granted Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement to the 24 Caribbean countries.
“There was a lot of discussion and a lot of different proposals put forth,” said Walter Martindale, Washington liaison for Guilford Mills. “There was a review of what would be satisfactory to everyone.”
Martindale went on to say that the domestic industry is wrestling with devising a position that “will fulfill company needs, but support the general textile and apparel community.”
“Consensus is better,” Martindale said. “Fighting among ourselves is always honest, and we want a healthy difference of opinion. But at the same time, it is a great opportunity to reach mutual positions. It takes review and study and a lot of discussion.”
ATMI, along with the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, has long advocated expansion of NAFTA benefits, or parity, for the Caribbean. Several ATMI members, however, oppose parity and complained about their association’s stance. At last week’s meeting, the parity matter was brought up by several firms that oppose it and have lobbied against it on Capitol Hill.
Carlos Moore, ATMI executive vice president, declined to comment on discussions at the meeting.
According to Martindale, the debate swirled around the table, with more questions than comments. Company executives were wrestling with “the best way to approach it,” he said.
Also, concern was expressed among members that their debate may be premature, since some think there is little chance that the parity issue will move on Capitol Hill this year, one industry official said.
Capitol Hill trade staffers have said that the parity bill is considered a minor trade issue and, so, likely won’t advance legislatively unless it is attached to a larger trade proposal. Efforts in the past two Congresses to advance the bill failed because of a lack of broad support and the opposition of members who fear that domestic plants will move to the Caribbean, and take local jobs with them, if trade benefits are expanded.
Larry Martin, president of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, said his group planned to continue working to advance the parity plan on Capitol Hill, whether or not it had the backing of ATMI. He said Friday that he believed that ATMI would continue to back the plan.
Some ATMI members have expressed fear that expanded trade benefits to the Caribbean could jeopardize their investments in Mexico. Also, some textile officials prefer to see a parity plan negotiated with the Caribbean nations, instead of simply granted as a NAFTA expansion, so the U.S. can secure additional concessions regarding market access from the region.

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