WHITE HOUSE WORKING ON DEAL TO GET GATT TO SENATE FLOOR
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats and the White House were working Thursday to ensure passage this year of the implementing legislation for the GATT worldwide trade accord in the face of disgruntled retailers and apparel importers and threats from Sen. Ernest Hollings (D., S.C.).
As reported, Hollings, a long-time foe of GATT, has vowed to bottle the bill up in committee for the 45 legislative days permitted under fast-track rules. With the scheduled Congressional adjournment for the November elections, this would effectively wreck its passage this year.
In a Capitol Hill lunch Thursday, Hollings, other Senate Democrats, White House chief of staff Leon Panetta and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Rufus Yerxa worked out a preliminary compromise that would get the bill voted on this year with a minimum of discomfort.
The deal would give Hollings the opportunity for an airing in the commerce committee, which he heads, but he would return it to the floor in time for a vote. The Senate would come back in force for debate around the end of November, to be followed by the vote. Under this plan, the Senate would not be forced to give up its scheduled adjournment, even though keeping the chamber in session only requires that two members show up daily.
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D., Maine) said the plan still needed to get an OK from Senate Republicans. The House is expected to pass the bill before adjournment for the elections.
Along with the wheeling and dealing, GATT advocates on Capitol Hill remained optimistic about its chances for passage.
Asked about the retailer-importer opposition to the bill because it includes a change in the rule of origin for apparel imports, Sen. Bob Packwood (R., Ore.), who worked unsuccessfully on behalf of retailers to remove the rule change from the bill, said: “I know they’re doing this, but it won’t kill [GATT].”
The rule change shifts the country of origin for quota purposes from where the apparel is cut to where it is sewn. In particular, this would upset the common practice of having apparel cut in Hong Kong, assembled in China where labor is cheaper and shipped to the U.S. under the plentiful Hong Kong quota. Besides disrupting sourcing patterns, the retailers and importers say, it would raise the cost of clothes.
The National Retail Federation, International Mass Retail Association and U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel have spoken out against the bill because of the rule change provision. At the same time, the American Apparel Manufacturers Association said it would fight the bill because it excluded a provision to give Caribbean Basin Initiative apparel makers the same trade benefits given Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
— Fairchild News Service