TEXTILE CONCESSIONS EASE WAY FOR TPA
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — The bill granting the President trade promotion authority that squeaked through the House last week goes before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, where it’s expected to face considerably less controversy.
In arriving at the Senate, the House bill carries in its wake a host of White House and GOP leadership promises to help the beleaguered domestic textile industry, used to secure House passage of TPA on a 215-214 vote.
These deals are being debated among Southern lawmakers and in the textile industry as to whether they can help revive the flagging domestic textile sector. Moreover, retailers and other importers are concerned that the horse trading for TPA votes might harm the cause of removing tariffs and other trade barriers still facing apparel and textile imports into the U.S.
In an 11th-hour plea for votes, the White House and House GOP leadership, among other things, promised in two letters to:
Require trading partners to lower tariffs and remove local textile and apparel subsidies, so that U.S. products can better compete. Such steps would have to be taken before the U.S. grants more market access.
Develop a “trade agreements compliance strategy.” For example, added steps would be taken to ensure foreign countries don’t circumvent quota restrictions by transshipping.
Resist all calls in the World Trade Organization to speed up the phaseout of textile and apparel quotas before their expiration in 2005.
Ensure a correction is made in last year’s duty-dropping Caribbean Basin trade bill. The change would require U.S. textiles used in production to be dyed, finished and printed in the U.S., which would save an expected tens of thousands of jobs. A pledge was made to include the same provision in pending legislation for Andean countries.
These pledges will still go forward regardless of Senate action on TPA — a measure that simply says Congress can’t amend agreements negotiated between the administration and U.S. trading partners. Absent such assurances, President Bush argues, other countries will be reluctant to negotiate, and U.S. exports and the economy will lose out to nations routinely penning free-trade pacts. The presidential authority expired seven years ago.
These promises exacted by House Southern state lawmakers were essential to keeping TPA alive.
By all accounts, GOP House members from textile and apparel states, under pressure to vote “no” from constituents, who are among 63,000 people in the twin industries unemployed this year alone — were caught between constituent concerns about the impact of import competition on jobs and loyalty to Bush and his ambitious trade agenda.
Rep. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) was one of three GOP votes from the House Textile Caucus that nudged the TPA vote into the winning column. He first voted against the measure because TPA’s chief sponsor and gatekeeper to all trade legislation, Ways & Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R., Calif.), wouldn’t agree to his demand to change the dyeing, printing and finishing rules in the Caribbean trade bill.
With TPA looking like it would fail by two or three votes, Thomas relented, signing a letter of agreement DeMint brought with him to the House floor.
“We walked away with a good situation where the Textile Caucus has shown we are not just a ‘Just Say No’ [to trade bill] caucus, that we can be supportive and participate if they give some support for the textile industry,” DeMint said.
Not everyone in the caucus shares DeMint’s optimism. Among the 23 Republicans voting against TPA were several caucus members, including its chairman, Rep. Howard Coble (R., N.C.).
“I am not convinced that U.S. trade negotiators are looking out for the best interest of America’s textile workers,” Coble said in a statement. “I am convinced that our negotiators will use textiles as a trading chip when it comes to talking trade with other countries.”
Doug Bulcao, director of government relations for the American Textile Manufacturers’ Institute, said he and his members are still sifting through the promises Textile Caucus members exacted.
“It may be that none of these things amount to anything,” said Bulcao. “But if I were one of these guys from a textile district with all the economic hardship going on and all the job losses, I couldn’t vote for [TPA] unless I felt very comfortable I got something.”
Jock Nash, Washington counsel for textile giant Milliken & Co., doubts the administration’s resolve to rally behind the domestic textile and apparel industry. Nash cited pending Andean trade legislation and provisions expanding apparel trade from the Caribbean Basin and Africa as countering any benefits from keeping dyeing, printing and finishing jobs in the U.S.
Proponents of expanding trade are concerned the deals struck by the Textile Caucus will hinder growth of apparel and textile trade.
Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, said he’s concerned administration pledges will mean a less-aggressive stance for the U.S. in negotiating apparel and textile tariff reductions at the WTO.
The bill now goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, which generally looks more favorably on trade legislation, although textile-state senators have succeeded in the past in paring back apparel import provisions.
Majority Leader Tom Dashcle (S.D.), a TPA supporter — although he has said he wants to bring “the right bill” to the floor — has said the measure probably won’t be considered by the full Senate until next year. During Senate consideration, changes could be made to the House version.
Like in the House, there are calls among Senate Democrats to require trade negotiators to weigh labor and environmental standards in agreements, among other non-tariff trade issues. Such standards are something the Bush administration, GOP lawmakers and the business lobby have bucked.
“The Senate will want to put its imprimatur, and it’s our hope its imprimatur won’t be much different than the House version,” said Kevin Burke, president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.