Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — A plan to broaden trade benefits to the Caribbean was approved Thursday in a voice vote by the House Ways and Means Committee and already is drawing fire from domestic textile makers and praise from retailers and importers.
The House version would give duty-free benefits to a broader range of textile and apparel products exported from the region, compared with a Senate bill approved last week that would only bestow benefits on apparel made of U.S. textiles. Thus, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute prefers the Senate bill, while importers, retailers and the American Apparel Manufacturers Association prefer the broader House version.
Under the House plan, tariff and quota benefits similar to those given Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement would be extended to Caribbean apparel and textile exports that meet the NAFTA rules of origin. The parity benefits would go from May 15, 1998, through July 15, 1999.
In a letter to Rep. Bill Archer (R., Tex.), Ways and Means chairman, and committee members, ATMI president John C. Adams, head of Russell Corp., said his industry would oppose the House bill because it is “deficient.”
Laura Jones, executive director of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said in a Thursday letter to the Senate Finance Committee chair William Roth Jr. (R., Dela.), and panel members that her members strongly opposed the Senate bill because it would “do nothing to move trade back to this hemisphere from Asia.” In a letter to Archer, his committee members and House leadership, Jones said her group backed the House version because it was “balanced and provided a real basis…to reconsider sourcing options.”
National Retail Federation senior vice president John Motley in a letter to Ways and Means members said retailers backed the House approach. “It recognizes current commercial realities and balances those with a desire to assist U.S.-based apparel and textile companies,” Motley wrote.

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