Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — The government’s Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements has set March 20 for a hearing on the phasing out of quota on apparel and textiles under the GATT Uruguay Round.
The hearing will focus on the list issued by CITA in January proposing which products will be integrated into the quota-free trade set by the GATT agreement during the final two stages of integration. These begin Jan. 1, 1998, and Jan. 1, 2002, respectively. Under the terms of the GATT agreement, 51 percent of textile and apparel trade is to be quota free by 2002, and all remaining quota will be eliminated on Jan. 1, 2005.
The first phase of this three-stage integration was initiated on Jan. 1 and was blasted by importers because none of the categories involved was deemed sensitive. In fact, none carried quota to begin with. The proposal for the last two stages has been similarly criticized by importers and retailers, who say that no more than 15 percent of sensitive categories will be integrated by 2002.
Those wishing to air their thoughts on this controversial issue at the hearing have only until today to advise CITA, according to a notice being published today in the Federal Register, the usual vehicle for such announcements. However, CITA chairman Rita Hayes pointed out that when the proposed integration list was issued in January, the agency advised that a hearing would be held in mid-March and those wishing to participate would have to advise CITA by Feb. 23.
At a meeting earlier this month of presidential trade advisers, as reported, The Gap chairman Donald Fisher upbraided both U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor and Jennifer Hillman, chief U.S. textile negotiator, charging the entire quota phaseout schedule plays into the hands of domestic manufacturers who might seek to extend the quota system.
Fisher said these interests would argue the sudden transition — from 85 percent of sensitive products under quota to total quota elimination one day later — could wreak havoc with U.S.-based companies.
In today’s Federal Register notice, CITA said the March 20 hearing will be held at the main hearing room of the International Trade Commission, 500 E Street here. The notice directs parties wishing to participate to contact by today Julie Carducci, by telephone at 202-482-3588, or by fax at 202-482-0858. Written testimony and other comments to be presented at the hearing must be submitted by March 2 to CITA chairman Hayes, Department of Commerce, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20230.