DOLE TO ATMI: ENDING QUOTAS WON’T HURT

Byline: S. Gray Maycumber

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The textile industry will not be hurt by the loss of quotas under the new GATT and will be as strong in 10 years as it is now, according to Sen. Bob Dole (R., Kan.).
However, the Senate majority leader, who is also about to formally declare his candidacy for the White House, noted that he was planning some oversight legislation to insure that “we are not mistreated by some panels in the World Trade Organization.”
As the featured speaker at the final business session Saturday of the annual meeting of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, at the Breakers hotel here, Dole drew a lot of positive interest as he told textile leaders: “My observation is that our American textile industry is impressively resolvent. You are survivors — no doubt about it. Every U.S. industry facing adversity can take faith in the book of the American fabric producers, yarn spinners and home furnishing makers.”
The quotas, he told them, “have been around for over 30 years and always were supposed to be temporary.” Dole said, “I would bet right now that after those quotas are phased out you will still be making some of the highest-quality products in the world and you will still be selling them as you do today, in virtually every market imaginable.”
Until recently, it was unheard of for any ATMI speaker to dismiss the importance of quotas or, for that matter, protectionism to the textile industry. But this meeting was notable for its strong emphasis on exporting and lack of any call for protective trade measures by the government.
Dole’s comments seemed to reflect the philosophy of the new ATMI leadership.
“The long-term health of your industry lies not in protectionism, but in the willingness to compete aggressively in every market on the face of the planet,” he said.
But should problems arise, he assured the industry it has good friends in Washington. Especially so, he implied, if he is elected president.
“The textile industry has a lot of strong bipartisan support in Washington. We are aware of your problems.”
Dole defended the North American Free Trade Agreement as a beneficial trade bill for the textile industry: “It secured specific market access, while its yarn-forward rule prevents Mexico from being a back door to the U.S. market for Asian importers.”
But on the new GATT or the WTO, its successor, Dole had some reservations: “A lot of us are concerned with the new GATT…we can’t put a wall around America — we have to trade and be competitive — but we are concerned about all those adverse trade rulings set by some unknown bureaucrats, often from Third World countries. It is our responsibility that other countries observe trade rules.
“Because of this,” he said, “I worked with the administration before they could get my vote on GATT to create a new commission to examine each and every adverse decision by the WTO to make sure that we are not mistreated, and if we have been then we have the right to withdraw from the WTO.”
An ATMI staff spokesman described Dole’s proposal as “a referendum to the Finance Committee,” adding, “It’s a legislative proposal, which was contingent on Dole voting for the new GATT. It’s called S-16 and hearings on it will be in May.”
The proposal, he explained, calls for “an oversight program that creates an independent panel of five U.S. judges that would oversee decisions of the WTO panels and decide if they have diminished U.S. law or U.S. interests. If such a finding was made, Congress could demand renegotiation. If it is found that the WTO exceeded its authority three times in five years, conceivably the U.S. could withdraw from the WTO.” The proposed rule is called the “three strikes and you’re out ” amendment by some.
Some textile industry leaders, who did not wish to be quoted, were less than enthusiastic about “Three Strikes.” One said, “The WTO has so much power and authority that it is inconceivable, or at least very unlikely, that it would be found to have exceeded it. It’s also a proposal with hearings in May. It might not happen, or could be watered down.”
Nevertheless, the meeting, as reported, was determinedly upbeat. While there were some executives who had considerable reservations on just how good the textile business was right now, they were largely reluctant to present these views for attribution. The ATMI leadership seemed negative on negative attitudes.
“This is a wonderful time for the textile industry and a wonderful time to be alive,” said new ATMI president Walter Elisha, chairman and chief executive officer of Springs Industries. “The shakeout is over. Problems will be solved easier than in past years.”
For instance, he said, “NAFTA is a very important thing for the textile industry. While Mexico is having big problems now, we should be calm about this and patient. It is our biggest customer. We shouldn’t say, ‘I told you so,’ as some have.”
The “some” would seem to refer to Roger Milliken, chairman of Milliken & Co., a harsh critic of both NAFTA and GATT/WTO.
Milliken may have paid for his opposition to ATMI’s trade policies. He was not reelected to the ATMI executive committee for the first time in several years.
While there were rumors that he had resigned after the rejection of his proposal that ATMI not support the extension of NAFTA benefits to Caribbean Basin Initiative countries, this was not so. ATMI executive vice president Carlos Moore, downplaying the move, said “His term had concluded.” However others reported that Milliken simply was not reelected because he did not conform to the official ATMI policies.
Milliken left the meeting after the first day. His Washington counsel, John Nash, said, “They kicked him out because he did not go along with them.”
Dole, in concluding his remarks on the textile industry, said, “This is a good time to be in your business. I think that today, the American textile business is as strong as ever before.”
In Palm Beach the day before to attend a $1,000-a-plate fund-raising dinner, Dole appeared to be practicing a new lighter, friendlier delivery. He joked and smiled frequently and mentioned specific textile leaders by name, including Walter Montgomery Sr., ceo of Spartan Mills, whom Dole quipped might “run against Sen. Strom Thurmond.” Montgomery is 94.
Dole was introduced by Sen. Lock Faircloth (R., N.C.), who said Dole “acts like a president and is going to be a president.’ Dole said that a formal announcement of his candidacy would be made April 10. In addition to Elisha, as ATMI president, other new officers are James Fitzgibbons, chairman and ceo of Fieldcrest Cannon, as first vice president, and John C. Adams, chairman and ceo of Russell Corp., as second vice president.
Fitzgibbons is new to the rotation, due to what appears to be an ATMI first. Last year’s second vice president, slated to become first, was J. Henry Walker 3rd, president of Dundee Mills. Dundee has recently been acquired by Springs, where Elisha is president, and ATMI bylaws prohibit more than one officer from a single company. So Walker resigned.
The new lineup, two officers from primarily home furnishing companies and one from a vertical apparel company, indicate ATMI’s move away from leadership from the traditional fabric mills, producing gray goods and apparel fabrics.