IMPORTERS MAKE THEIR FINAL CASE AS CONGRESS DEBATES CBI BILL

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Apparel importers are making their last pitch to House and Senate lawmakers who aim to conclude negotiations soon on a duty-and-quota-eliminating Africa and Caribbean Basin trade bill.
The two chambers are working to reach a compromise on the issue of textile origin for apparel receiving trade breaks from those regions. The Senate limits the bill to apparel made from U.S. textiles only, while the House has more liberal textile origin rules.
Importers are particularly concerned that negotiators of the bill will carve out a narrow exception to the Caribbean Basin portion of the Senate’s U.S.-textiles-only rule.
Importers want all textiles produced in the region — knits, knit-to-shape and wovens — in addition to U.S. fabric, to be covered by the legislation.
“Currently, there are discussions to limit the regional fabric benefit to only knit products,” Laura Jones, executive director of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, wrote Rep. Phil Crane (R., Ill.), chairman of the House Trade Subcommittee and one of the key negotiators. “This type of limitation would be a serious detriment to the expansion of investment in the CBI region.”
Jones made the case that while the Caribbean Basin produces more knit fabrics than wovens, the dollar value is greater for wovens such as jeans and blouses. The letter, dated Wednesday, mirrors the stance of retailers, who are making their pitch to have the legislation contain a broad regional fabric origin rule.
Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, said a textile-origin rule covering wovens, as well as knits and knit-to-shape, would create a commercial incentive for stores to switch production to the Caribbean Basin from Asia. Retailers in general would prefer to make goods in the Caribbean because of its proximity and ability to better serve the U.S. market.
Apparel makers have also been pushing a broad regional fabric rule. However they have furthered a compromise singling out apparel made from regional knit fabrics for duty and quota benefit.
Rep. Bill Archer (R., Texas), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and another negotiator, said Wednesday a compromise on the measure “may well conclude” next week. After a deal is struck, the package must be voted on by the House and Senate.

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