NEXT ROUND ON THE CARD: THE SENATE
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — The GATT Uruguay Round passed its first big hurdle Tuesday when the House approved it in a rare lame-duck session, but the measure still faces its biggest test in the Senate, where the real battle over its fate is being waged.
Late Tuesday, the administration, while publicly predicting a win in the Senate, was dispatching Washington lobbyists, including the National Retail Federation, for help in its quest to win GATT converts.
The House vote for GATT of 288 to 146 was a stronger validation than that given the North American Free Trade Agreement a year ago – 234 to 200. Nevertheless, the White House was said to be privately estimating it was still four or five votes short of the 60 it will need when the Senate votes Thursday to overcome a technical motion on the costs of the agreement.
If the White House can win support for waiving the full costs of GATT, the Senate then will vote on the implementing bill.
The NRF, as reported, has reentered the GATT fray and Tuesday hand-delivered letters to every Senate office signed by 48 executives, including many of the biggest names in retailing — Allen Questrom, chairman of Federated Department Stores; Donald G. Fisher, chairman, The Gap Inc., Arthur C. Martinez, chairman, Sears Merchandise Group; William R. Howell, chairman and ceo, J.C. Penney Co.; Robert J. Tarr Jr., president, The Neiman Marcus Group Inc.; Bob Ulrich, chairman, Dayton Hudson Corp., and Myron Ullman 3rd, chairman, R.H. Macy & Co.
Despite strong opposition to an apparel rule of origin change inserted in the GATT-implementing bill by the domestic textile and apparel industries, NRF overcame its objections to GATT because of its market opening provisions.
“The agreement provides for the elimination or reduction of tariffs on a wide range of consumer products, as well as the removal of foreign barriers to the expansion of U.S. exports and services abroad, such as retailing,” the letter said.
William J. Armfield 4th, vice chairman of Unifi Inc., Greensboro, N.C., and president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said Tuesday’s House GATT vote was “just the beginning of major changes we will see in international trade policies and practices” and painted a mixed picture of GATT’s impact.
“The GATT will have both negative and positive effects on the U.S. textile industry and its 671,000 employees nationwide. As quotas are phased out under the Multi-Fiber Arrangement, imports of textiles and apparel will increase, causing a decline in U.S. production and the loss of jobs. At the same time, the GATT provides for increased market access to foreign textile and apparel markets by nearly all major trading partners.
“The increased market access will lead to more U.S. textile exports, which will offset some of the damage caused by increased imports,” he said.
In the battle for Senate votes, opponents and proponents of GATT worked tirelessly Tuesday, and all had varying estimates on the ultimate tally. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D., S.C.), one of the biggest opponents of GATT who was solely responsible for delaying the vote two months by reviewing it in the Senate Commerce Committee, which he chairs, conceded that his efforts to derail the pact had failed. He predicted that the administration would tally up to 67 votes for the budget waiver and maybe more on final passage.
ILGWU vice president and legislative director Evelyn Dubrow was working with Hollings in persuading members to oppose the agreement.
Roger Milliken, chairman of Milliken & Co., Spartanburg, S.C., was telephoning senators urging them to vote against the pact, said his Washington counsel Jock Nash. “As a Catholic, I believe in divine intervention and think we can still win,” Nash said. He predicted the administration lacked more than five votes to win GATT. Bob Packwood (R., Ore.), incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a staunch GATT backer, meanwhile told reporters the White House would garner about 65 votes for the budget vote. Sen. Howell Heflin (D., Ala.), said he planned to vote against GATT for fear that apparel and textile workers in his state would lose their jobs. At least 40 percent of Alabama’s manufacturing jobs are in textiles and apparel, he said in a press conference, and GATT “adds salt to the wounds of those workers who have suffered job losses because of NAFTA.”
In the House, it was the Republican Party that gave Clinton the winning edge. While many were intent on “revenge,” and did not want to give Clinton GATT and the accompanying political victory, those favoring GATT prevailed.
“President Clinton is right as he was on the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Rep. David Dreier (R., Calif.), told reporters.
— Fairchild News Service