INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS SEEKING REVAMP OF TRADE POLICY
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — Four industry trade associations are calling on the Bush administration to revamp U.S. trade policy regarding apparel and textile imports, arguing the current system is antiquated, favoring an era when there was more domestic production in these sectors.
The case for change was made in a letter sent Monday to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick from officials with the groups representing apparel and textile importers. The signatories were Robert Verdisco, president of the International Mass Retail Association; Tracy Mullin, president of the National Retail Federation; Laura Jones, executive director of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, and Larry Martin, president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association.
The association officials argue in their letter that, “America does not have a current textile policy addressing textile and apparel trade.”
The officials criticized current U.S. apparel and textile trade policy for still being grounded in the Nixon administration, “when the total U.S. textile and apparel market was less than one-thirtieth of the size it is today.”
President Nixon’s apparel and textile trade policy was designed to limit imports by creating a system of quota-setting bilateral apparel and textile agreements. However, as part of the global push to lower trade barriers under GATT, the U.S. agreed five years ago to phase out the system by 2005.
The letter to Zoellick is the latest lament of apparel and textile importers’ claims that domestic producers are given too much deference in trade matters by U.S. officials. The fierce differences have been a factor in trade negotiations and in getting textile and apparel trade-liberalizing legislation through Congress.
The letter alludes to the controversy apparel and textiles stir in U.S. politics by mentioning how Clinton administration Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, after her departure, said U.S. trade policy has to deal with its “Achilles Heels, such as textiles.”
To recast U.S. trade policy toward the importance of textile and apparel imports to the U.S. economy and consumers, association officials asked Zoellick to convene a forum to discuss how U.S. policy and apparel and textile producers are preparing for the phase out of quotas in 2005.
Erik Autor, the NRF’s vice president and international trade counsel, said in a statement about the letter that he would like such a forum to develop “fundamental changes” to U.S. textile policy.
“The way to do that is to formulate a (policy)…that focuses on opening markets, expanding trade and that works to the benefit of all interests — American retailers, manufacturers, importers and consumers,” he said.
After reading the letter, those on the side of domestic apparel and textile producers attacked the association’s characterization of U.S. trade policy. They argue that the 10-year quota phase out is being done according to a negotiated schedule, which domestic producers and importers helped to create. They also note how apparel and textile trade liberalizing pacts like NAFTA and the Caribbean Basin and sub-Saharan Africa trade bill have benefited importers.
Seth Bodner, executive director of the National Knitwear and Sportswear Association, said, “The government needs to consider whether they are willing for the U.S. industry to completely disappear and allow the country to be entirely dependent on imports.”
Bodner cited how apparel employment is now 612,000 workers, compared to 1995, at the start of the quota phase out, when employment was 950,000.
Jock Nash, Washington counsel for textile giant Milliken & Co., said, “I’m not sure we need to have a forum with retail and importer interests deciding manufacturing policies.”