Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — It looks like Rita Hayes is on her way to being confirmed as the U.S.’s textile ambassador.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on her nomination by the White House. It’s a session that’s expected to clear the way for the full Senate to vote on the nomination.
Sources said the afternoon session will likely satisfy retailer and importer interests who have managed to block Hayes’s confirmation since December by getting a series of senators to put a hold on it. These groups were upset that the committee in mid-December approved the nomination at an informal session without holding hearings, and days later the Senate was slated to vote on it and many other nominations, via an end-of-session, unanimous consent procedure.
Reportedly, Sen. Michael DeWine (R., Ohio) and then-senator Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) exercised their Senatorial privilege to block consideration of Hayes’s nomination. The holds were seen as a bargaining chip in an importer-retailer attempt to delay the July 1 implementation of a change in the rule of origin for apparel imports, a change opposed by importers and retailers. It’s a controversy that may be aired at the upcoming hearing.
Sources said plans call for only Hayes to be questioned by the committee during the Wednesday session, although she may be asked to submit responses to other questions in writing afterward. The committee traditionally has held hearings on the textile ambassador nomination.
The holdup in the Hayes confirmation is not the first time an appointment to the textile post has been stalled. In 1989, the nomination of Ronald Sorini to this post was held up for nine months by then-senator Terry Sanford (D., N.C.) out of concern that the Bush administration would be “too lenient” on imports.
Hayes has served as the U.S. chief textile negotiator since last September, following nearly 2 1/2 years as chairman of the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements and deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for textiles, apparel and consumer goods.
Since the Seventies, presidents have nominated the textile negotiators to be ambassadors, reasoning this diplomatic rank is needed to negotiate with foreign trade officials.
Reacting to the scheduled hearing, Carlos Moore, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute’s executive vice president, on Friday reiterated a statement he made in December when Hayes’s confirmation was snagged. He said Hayes “is without question deserving ambassadorial rank.”
“She already has proven herself as an extraordinarily able chief textile negotiator,” Moore said.
He added, “This title will better enable her to represent the U.S. in negotiations with foreign government representatives, including trade ministers and ambassadors.”
Expressing his approval of the nomination, Larry Martin, president, American Apparel Manufacturers Association, said the AAMA “filed a letter in her behalf with the committee, because she knows the industry, she served three years with [Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel], and we always seem to get a fair hearing, as does everyone else.”
The National Retail Federation had been in the forefront of opposition to Hayes’s confirmation without a hearing or vote. On Friday, Robert P. Hall, NRF’s vice president and government affairs counsel, said it “welcomes the prospects of hearings and learning Ms. Hayes’s plans to implement the U.S. textile program in the coming months.”
— Fairchild News Service

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