SENATE DEBATE ON ANDES PACT FINALLY BEGINS
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — After long delays, the Senate Friday began debate on a bill that would grant Andean countries duty-free treatment for apparel made of U.S. textiles.
This is the first of many procedural steps this measure faces. While the President has indicated he supports the idea, it could take two months or more for Congress to get a final version of the bill to his desk.
An Andean trade bill covering Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador passed the House last year with broader textile-origin rules allowing for Andean fabric. That version of the bill also increases duty-free breaks in the Caribbean Basin and sub-Saharan Africa for certain garments made of non-U.S. textiles.
Should the Andean bill pass the Senate, the two bodies would then have to hash out a final version of the bill that both the House and Senate could agree on.
In the Senate, the Andean bill is slated to be packaged with measures renewing trade promotion authority for the President and expanding federal assistance for workers displaced by trade, to include either health insurance or health care tax credits.
Under TPA, Congress could not amend trade bills negotiated by the administration, an issue that’s highly controversial this election year. Lawmakers, including those in textile-producing states, are facing angry voters who blame trade agreements, including NAFTA, for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Reflecting this political angst, TPA squeaked through the House by a one-vote margin, while the Andean bill passed more easily.
The Andean bill in the Senate has widespread support because it renews existing trade breaks for flowers and other products from the region, industries that Congress wants to encourage as alternatives to drug trafficking.
Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said she expects TPA to attract the most controversy in the Senate. “The opposition isn’t focused on the Andean bill,” she said.