DRIVE TO PASS GATT BILL GETS MOVING
Byline: Joyce Barrett and Jim Ostroff
WASHINGTON — The post-election push to get the GATT Uruguay Round agreement through Congress moved into gear Thursday.
The incoming Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Bill Archer (R., Tex.), predicted passage of the pact, and President Clinton made another call for Republican support.
“I believe we will pass GATT on a bipartisan basis,” Archer said at a press conference. He even went so far as to predict passage in the Senate, where it faces its biggest challenge from members leery of waiving budget rules to pay for it by making up for the loss in tariff revenues.
While there have been congressional rumblings that because of the big shift in the balance of power in Congress, GATT should be considered next year, Archer said that to do so would threaten the entire agreement. It would not be considered under fast track next year, he said, and so could be altered by Congress, a move that could force U.S. trading partners to back away from it.
Clinton — in a talk at Georgetown School of Foreign Service, his alma mater — said the Congress should put partisan politics aside and adopt the GATT bill, asserting “the pressures of the global economy are relentless and dynamic.”
Industry, though, is not sanguine about passage in the Senate, and at least one group, the National Association of Manufacturers, has hired an emissary to attempt to assuage doubts in the Senate about the agreement.
Bill Frenzel, currently a consultant with The Brookings Institution and a former Republican member of Congress for 20 years, has been retained by NAM. Frenzel worked with the Clinton administration last year to round up votes for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He predicted in a separate press conference Thursday that the toughest vote in the Senate would be on the budget waiver but also expressed confidence the agreement would be passed by Congress this year.
“My job will be to find out who in the Senate has doubts and then to resolve those doubts,” Frenzel said.
Howard Lewis, vice president of international economic affairs for NAM, said the association is “optimistic but not complacent” about GATT’s chances of passage. “I think the issue will have a lot of tension, but this is not a signal that the business community is panicking.”
The House is scheduled to vote on it Nov. 30 after two days of debate. The Senate is expected to follow with its vote on Dec. 1. The lame-duck session was called after support for a vote on the agreement before congressional elections waned and after Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D., S.C.), successfully delayed the Senate vote by insisting on hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee, which he chairs.
The Alliance for GATT Now, a coalition of businesses pushing for GATT passage, also is beginning to mount its GATT campaign and has slated nationwide grass roots lobbying and an advertising campaign in the Washington area.
Two key retail groups, the National Retail Federation and the International Mass Retail Association, however, are continuing to sit on the sidelines. Although advocates of free trade, they are irked by the inclusion in the implementing legislation of a change in the rule of origin for apparel imports, which they say will seriously disrupt sourcing patterns.
Among importers, Laura Jones, executive vice president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said that while “it favors the GATT, the association opposes the implementing bill because of the origin rule change.”
But, Jones said, its officers have yet to decide whether they will lobby actively against the bill.
The American Association of Exporters and Importers supports the implementing legislation, but has no lobbying plans to support it, said Eugene Milosh, president. Another group of importers based in the Northwest, the National Apparel and Textile Association in Seattle, hopes to lobby senators in Washington, Oregon and California to vote for the pact.
The National Knitwear & Sportswear Association and the American Textile Manufacturers Institute remain neutral on the pact and won’t work for or against it, according to spokesmen. ATMI, though, reiterated it will work to insure that favorable treatment continues in apparel rules of origin and in quota phaseouts. American Apparel Manufacturers Association president Stewart Boswell said it remains opposed to the GATT bill since it did not include a provision to give the Caribbean nations parity with Mexico under NAFTA for trading apparel and textiles.
Beyond GATT, Archer in his press conference sought to dispel doubts about the earnestness of free trade philosophies among the Republican Party, which has seized control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 42 years.
The party planned to work with President Clinton on his trade agenda, Archer said, “as long as he leads the country in the right direction to create jobs.” He continued: “We’ll help him knock down trade barriers around the world as the best way to help the American worker.”
He acknowledged that the GATT agreement was “not a perfect document.” But he added, “There is nothing so big in it that it should not pass.”
First on the agenda of the Ways and Means Committee, Archer said, would be the tax cuts for families and changes in Social Security, which are part of the Republican Contract with America that was signed by more than 300 GOP congressional candidates before the elections. Once those items are completed, Archer said trade would return to the panel’s agenda.
“Trade is one of the major, major areas that we will be dealing with,” Archer said. Among the items the committee would address are broadening trade benefits to the Caribbean Basin countries, an extension of the Generalized System of Preferences, which excludes textiles but which extends duty-free treatment to products from developing countries, as well as a fast-track extension.
Archer said a fast-track bill likely would not include links to labor standards and environmental protections that were sought earlier this year by the Clinton administration.
“Trade should be determined on its own merits,” he said.