COMMITTEE TO VOTE ON PRESIDENT’S TPA

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote today on a version of presidential trade promotion authority similar to one passed last week in the House by a one-vote margin.
At the same time, the controversy over deals struck between the House GOP leadership and textile-state lawmakers to secure House passage of TPA continues to rage, with retailers seeking to derail one of the pledges.
Of particular concern to retailers is the deal exacted by a South Carolina lawmaker to get the upper hand in a long-simmering feud between members with U.S. textile constituents and those advocating unfettered trade.
Rep. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), concerned about saving jobs in the beleaguered textile industry, was promised legislation requiring all U.S. textiles be dyed and finished in the U.S. if used in Caribbean Basin-made apparel receiving duty-free treatment. Such a requirement would also be extended to a pending measure dropping duties on Andean apparel.
Still angry over the accord, the National Retail Federation fired off a letter Tuesday to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.) and other GOP leaders, as well as administration officials. Retailers and other importers want to be able to dye and finish textiles in either region and maintain Congress intended it to be that way.
“With the addition of a new restriction on the ability to dye and finish fabric,” NRF president Tracy Mullin wrote, “U.S. retailers and importers will have little, if any, incentive to source under the program or under any Andean initiative that also includes such a restriction. The result will be that less, not more, U.S. fabric will be sold.”
Citing retailers’ long-standing support of President Bush’s free-trade stance, Mullin continued: “It is particularly galling to find our interests ignored and matters of importance to our industry traded away in order to placate an industry that never supported TPA and has vehemently opposed nearly every major trade initiative.”
Mullin said that if the dyeing and finishing issue is tacked onto a pending Customs Service funding bill, retailers would oppose the measure they would otherwise support.
In other dyeing and finishing news in the wake of the DeMint deal, a House Ways & Means staffer has asked the International Trade Commission for “technical assistance” on determining the impact of Congress requiring the processes be done in the U.S. Leaders on the committee from both parties were opposed to the DeMint accord.
A spokeswoman for the committee said it’s too early to say how the information from the ITC might be used and declined to comment on whether information is being gathered as part of a proposed dyeing and finishing compromise.
All the controversy over the horse trading in the House to secure TPA votes has overshadowed TPA itself. Having the authority — expired for seven years — would mean Congress couldn’t amend trade pacts, something the administration says is needed to get trading partners to seriously negotiate.
The Senate Finance Committee today will consider a TPA measure only slightly different than the House version. The changes mostly involve increasing consultation between the administration and Congress during negotiations and handling of investor disputes in foreign countries.
While the committee is expected to approve TPA, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) reiterated Tuesday that he won’t likely bring the measure to a vote until next year.

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