Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — A bill to give Caribbean Basin nations trade benefits equal to those given Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement was approved Wednesday by the House Trade Subcommittee.
Welcomed by apparel makers, especially those with longstanding sourcing relationships in the Caribbean, the measure is expected to be considered by the full House Ways and Means Committee in May.
Under the plan, sponsored by Reps. Phil Crane (R., Ill.), chairman of the House Trade Subcommittee, and Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), ranking minority member on the panel, the island nations — already receiving benefits under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act — would see U.S. trade barriers further reduced.
These additional benefits will be granted for 10 years, during which negotiations to accede to NAFTA are expected to take place among the Caribbean countries. If not, bilateral agreements with the U.S. would be drawn up or the benefits would be lost.
At the same time, the Caribbean countries would be expected to make improvements on intellectual property rights protection, opening their markets to U.S. products and improving labor rights. If the president determines they aren’t making improvements, their trade benefits with the U.S. can be withdrawn or suspended. Crane’s original proposal would have extended the NAFTA-like benefits to the Caribbean for six years and would not have given the administration authority to review improvements in property rights, labor rights and market access.
Crane along with Rangel offered a substitute bill Wednesday after consultations with the Clinton administration.
A Senate bill identical to Crane’s original proposal has been introduced by Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.), but no action has been planned.
The legislation has been proposed out of concern that Caribbean countries will lose their competitiveness to Mexico under NAFTA. Caribbean officials have been especially concerned that the apparel assembly plants that have flocked to their countries will flee to Mexico to avoid the value-added duties that still must be made on apparel assembled in the Caribbean of fabrics cut in the U.S.
Rep. L.F. Payne (D., Va.), who represents some 50,000 textile and apparel workers, criticized the measure, saying the Caribbean “doesn’t need it, and our workers can’t afford it.” — Fairchild News Service