Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Time is running out for House-Senate negotiators trying to bridge their differences over a bill that would drop duties on sub-Saharan African and Caribbean Basin apparel imports.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.), one of the negotiators who is considered the key to reaching a compromise, said Tuesday that if a deal wasn’t reached by week’s end, he’d have to put the measure on the back burner.
“My involvement in an effort to try and find a way to move it will probably have to end this week because I will have to move onto other things,” Lott told reporters, enumerating the backlog of legislation awaiting his attention.
Underscoring the sense of urgency felt by backers of the bill to reach a compromise, Clinton administration officials have summoned business leaders for a meeting today at the White House. Retailers, apparel and textile importers, and manufacturers of apparel and textiles, are among those invited to a briefing on the trade bill’s status. President Clinton has made passage of the measure a priority.
The touchy issue of textile origin continues to stymie negotiations. The Senate favors a strict U.S.-textile-only rule, while the House advocates a broader rule that would allow fabric produced in either region to be used in apparel receiving the duty breaks, in addition to some allowances for foreign fabric.
The International Mass Retail Association, which has members like Wal-Mart and Kmart, would like to tap Africa as an apparel importer. The group told negotiators in a letter sent Monday that any restrictions on regional fabric would place Africa at a competitive disadvantage. The IMRA also wants a limited amount of foreign fabric to be used in African apparel-making until the continent establishes a textile industry.
The National Retail Federation is also concerned about Caribbean Basin textiles being excluded from a final bill, arguing the Senate’s approach limits the region’s commercial appeal.

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