GROUP FORMS TO PUSH CARIBBEAN PARITY
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel makers are broadening their efforts to have trade benefits expanded to the Caribbean Basin and are soliciting membership in a new lobbying organization dubbed Business Alliance for Trade Agreements.
Serving as co-chairman of the new group is Marty Granoff, chairman of Valdor, a men’s and women’s knitwear maker, and Koret of California, a women’s sportswear maker. The other chairman, Granoff said, is Elbert Hand, chairman and chief executive officer of Hartmarx Corp.
Hand could not be reached for comment.
Recruitment efforts have been under way for about two weeks, and so far, about 30 corporations have joined the group, Granoff said. He noted the ultimate plan is not just to attract major textile and apparel manufacturers to the group, but to enlist transportation companies, retailers, U.S. ports, cotton growers and yarn spinners that stand to gain from expanding trade benefits in the Caribbean. Companies are asked to contribute $50,000 for their membership.
Apparel makers Sara Lee Corp. and Oxford Industries confirmed they are members of the new group. Duke Kimbrell, ceo of Parkdale Mills, Gastonia, N.C., a large yarn spinner, said his company “probably” will join.
“We’re trying to say that the parity bill is multi-industry,” Granoff said. “The beneficiaries are farther reaching than textiles and apparel.”
The alliance plans Congressional lobbying, advertising campaigns and grass-roots lobbying to secure for the Caribbean trade parity with Mexico. Granoff estimates the alliance will be operative for about six weeks, until Congress adjourns and parity is passed. Noting industry efforts to secure this parity have failed for the past four years, Granoff said, “I’m realistic. It will be a tough battle.”
Much of the alliance’s work on parity will be the same as what the American Apparel Manufacturers Association and the American Textile Manufacturers Institute did during last summer’s unsuccessful effort to get parity passed. Larry Martin, AAMA president, said it would be a “useful adjunct.”
Doug Bulcao, deputy director of government relations for ATMI, said he views the new group as a “complement” to ATMI’s work. “They’re trying to broaden the reach beyond textile and apparel companies,” he said.
Granoff said the alliance was intended to “augment trade associations, not to supplant them.”
Yet several textile and apparel industry officials, who would only speak off the record, said the formation of such a group is a “vote of no confidence” in AAMA and ATMI.
“No one likes competition,” one textile lobbyist said. “ATMI would resent it most because they like to be in control. I suppose it’s intended to pool like-minded businesses that can cut through the silliness of going to association boards and having their positions watered down.”
Industry lobbyists participating in the recent Caribbean parity effort frequently expressed frustration during the months-long effort to reach a compromise among AAMA, ATMI, retailers and importers. ATMI sought to have free-trade benefits extended, for the most part, only to apparel that used U.S.-made fabrics. The compromise was scrapped in negotiations between the House and Senate.
Sara Lee, which has extensive apparel manufacturing operations in the Caribbean, announced earlier this week that it plans to sell much of its U.S. yarn and textile operations and would rely on outsourcing. Sara Lee stands to gain from lowered trade barriers promised by an expansion of trade privileges to the Caribbean and was pushing for a much more liberal bill than the ultimate compromise.
Parity reemerged last week as a viable issue in this Congressional session when Senate Finance Committee chairman William Roth Jr. (R., Del.) announced he planned to take action on it. His proposal has not yet emerged, but details are expected this week. Parity has support among House leaders, and there has been speculation it could be attached to a measure that would give President Clinton latitude to pursue further trade-opening agreements. That could be risky, however, since in recent days, Clinton’s request has been declared in serious trouble by Congressional Republicans.
Granoff said the alliance was seeking identical treatment for textiles and apparel given Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Among the various products shipped to the U.S. from the Caribbean are substantial amounts of cotton and man-made fiber underwear and nightwear. According to the Commerce Department, in the 12 months through July, U.S. imports of cotton and man-made fiber nightwear from the Caribbean amounted to 3.56 million dozen items. These imports were up 12.8 percent over the previous year and were 26 percent of all U.S. nightwear imports.
In cotton and man-made fiber underwear imports, Caribbean Basin countries exported 104.5 million dozen items, which was 64 percent of total U.S. imports in those categories. This figure was up 27 percent over the previous year.