Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — The revival last week of a bill that would impose new penalties against U.S. trading partners that violate textile trade laws is drawing the ire of retailers and importers, who charge it is protectionist and unnecessary.
The reaction is pretty much the same as when the bill — with strong support from the domestic industry — was introduced in the last Congress but never got to committee.
Sponsored by Sen. Wendell Ford (D., Ky.) and Rep. John Spratt (D., S.C.), the measure would create a special trade regime that would permit the U.S. to levy bilateral trade sanctions against countries that transship textiles or that permit it over their borders.
The bill also would permit a variety of trade sanctions against countries that engage in other types of unfair textile trade.
Spratt insisted the measure isn’t protectionist because it does not include quotas on textile imports and points to the bill’s title, “Customs Enforcement and Market Access Act,” as proof that it’s just aimed at opening foreign markets to U.S. exports.
Retailers and importers aren’t buying his argument. “This is just a new cover for a protectionist bill,” said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade and government affairs with the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “I suspect that most of our international trading partners are waiting for this to be used against them in negotiations. They will be told that they better negotiate more market opening for the textile sector, or they will be slapped with this bill.”
John Motley, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the National Retail Federation, said the industry has worked intensely since the measure was first introduced a year ago to diminish congressional support.
To nail down opposition for the bill, the NRF plans to send letters this week to all 535 members of the House and Senate to reiterate its objections.
“We’re trying to ensure that members of Congress understand that the domestic retail industry views this as a highly protectionist piece of legislation,” Motley said. “While they say it is a modest bill to address transshipments and market access, it really creates a mechanism to restrain trade.”
Identical to the plan introduced last year, the bill would, among other things, require textile agreements with countries that aren’t members of the World Trade Organization and whose textile and apparel imports exceed $100 million yearly.
It also would levy penalties against countries that permit transshipping and would double fines for trade law violations.
One element especially troublesome to retailers and importers is a provision that would create Special 301, a trade regime requiring the administration to evaluate market access for U.S. textile and apparel products and to levy penalties against countries that deny access to U.S. products.
This trade policy is used in other sectors, such as intellectual property rights, and is considered controversial because it permits the U.S. to initiate bilateral penalties against trading partners it considers to be breaking the law.
In announcing the measure, Ford said, “There is too much job loss due to illegal textile imports. This legislation will allow the textile and apparel industry to compete in a global economy.”

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