TRADE VOTE REMAINS UNCERTAIN

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — House members from textile and apparel-producing states could make the difference in a vote set for Thursday to determine whether Congress grants the President the negotiating authority he wants to further his trade-liberalizing agenda.
Supporters and proponents of trade promotion authority agree the outcome of the House vote remains uncertain. TPA already has been pulled from the House agenda this year because of a lack of votes.
Now supporters are fervently courting House members from apparel and textile-producing states, including GOP lawmakers who otherwise are boosters of President Bush, but who say the administration hasn’t done enough to help stem the loss of jobs in the twin industries.
A spokesman for Rep. Robin Hayes (R., N.C.), one of about a dozen fence sitters from the South from both parties, said, “He hasn’t ruled it out, but he is definitely leaning toward the ‘no’ category barring any major concessions for the U.S. textile industry.”
To counter concerns about the impact of expanded trade on basic industries like apparel and textiles, which have lost a combined 90,000 jobs this year, GOP leaders are offering legislation to increase unemployment and health benefits to displaced workers. There’s also increased money in next year’s Customs Service budget for textile-apparel transshipment enforcement.
So far, such legislative “sweeteners” and exhaustive meetings between administration officials, GOP leadership and House Textile Caucus members haven’t been enough to corral more TPA votes. However, a spokesman for Commerce Secretary Donald Evans indicated the administration hasn’t made its last offer.
The spokesman said the administration is “very aware of the plight” of the textile and apparel industries and “continues to work with members to alleviate their concerns.” The spokesman added that Textile Caucus members, also representing apparel interests, “could very well be the difference between success and failure of trade promotion authority.”
TPA, then called fast track, lapsed in 1993 after the passage of NAFTA. In addition to concerns about the competitive impacts of trade, many TPA opponents — mostly Democrats — argue that in granting the authority Congress should require the administration to negotiate labor and environmental standards in trade pacts so that poorer countries don’t exploit their natural resources or workers to gain advantages.
Organized labor, including UNITE, is making the TPA vote a litmus test for future political endorsements. Chris Chafe, UNITE’s political director, said the opposition camp needs about 30 Republicans to secure defeat and he said more than 20 GOP House members have said they’ll vote no.
Rep. Howard Coble (R., N.C.), Textile Caucus chairman, seems to have lost patience with the administration. Coble’s spokesman said, “They are a very cordial group, they listen attentively, they express interest for what you’re saying and empathy for the textile industry, and nothing comes of it.”

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