DONALD JOHNSON RESIGNS AS CHIEF TEXTILE NEGOTIATOR
Byline: Jim Ostroff
WASHINGTON — Donald Johnson, the U.S. chief textile negotiator, is leaving to join Patton, Boggs, one of the capital’s leading law and lobbying firms.
Johnson, 52, a one-time Democratic Georgia House member and an attorney, “will join the firm as a partner working with our other trade lawyers,” said Stuart Pape, Patton, Boggs’ managing partner. “We are delighted to have Don; he’s a terrific catch, a highly regarded, seasoned, knowledgeable trade practitioner.”
Pape confirmed that Johnson will be barred from doing certain work within the trade area under federal ethics guidelines. Under Clinton administration rules, this “cooling off” period lasts for up to five years after a person leaves government service. Johnson’s final day at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is Aug. 4.
Patton, Boggs is regarded as one of Washington’s most prestigious law firms and is headed by Tommy Boggs, called by many the capital’s single most powerful lobbyist. Sources said the firm was hired by various textile and apparel interests to shape a bill Congress ultimately enacted in April that provides special trade perks for makers in the Caribbean Basin and sub-Saharan Africa.
Johnson, in a telephone interview Saturday night, said it was “a great opportunity.” He acknowledged he “cannot lobby the Executive Office of the President, which includes USTR, for five years and I’m restricted from representing a foreign government pretty much forever.”
However, he said he could “represent a private company” abroad, but plans to work “principally with U.S. companies seeking to get market access overseas… and to work in the textile and apparel area, as well as on agriculture, chemicals and services, which involve many of the same type of issues.”
Johnson added that he expects to work on the next round of World Trade Organization negotiations, which analysts say likely will begin next year after collapsing in Seattle at the end of 1999. He will also work on ongoing negotiations to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas, now slated to begin in 2005.
“Overall,” said Johnson, “I feel good about the groundbreaking agreement we concluded with Cambodia,” which tied that country’s increased access to the U.S. apparel market to improved labor conditions for Cambodian workers in that sector. “We also made a lot of progress with Hong Kong on the transshipment problem, and I’m happy that we settled the rule-of-origin dispute with the European Union” that would have required some fine Italian, French and English accessories to be labeled “Made in China.”
News of Johnson’s departure set off immediate speculation in trade circles here that the White House might tap Richard Steinkamp as chief textile negotiator. Steinkamp, an attorney with experience in international agriculture trade, banking and securities issues, was named earlier this month to head up the Commerce Department’s textile program and chair the interagency group charged with enforcing U.S. textile policies.
Several industry officials downplayed this scenario, though, noting it is practically impossible for the Senate to confirm anyone as an ambassador, since Congress will be in session for only a short period of time between now and the November election.
Johnson was named by President Clinton in March 1998 to be the chief textile negotiator, succeeding Rita Hayes who became the U.S. ambassador to the WTO in Geneva. Later that year, Johnson was confirmed by the Senate as an ambassador, the traditional accompaniment to this job since the mid-Seventies.