WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, despite pressure from the U.S. textile industry and some members of Congress, has no plans to push for continued quota restraints or a special textile safeguard on Vietnam in the next phase of Vietnam’s effort to join the World Trade Organization.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia defended the agreement in principle with Vietnam Monday in advance of a three-country trip he will begin today to Taiwan, India and Vietnam.
“We believe that this is an agreement that our textile manufacturers should be comfortable with,” Bhatia said. “I understand that they are not, but we sincerely believe members of Congress should be strongly supportive of the agreement and…we’ve sought, and thus far been encouraged by, the bilateral support that the agreement appears to be getting” in Congress.
Bhatia said it is the administration’s “hope” that legislation granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations status for Vietnam, a requirement needed to join the WTO, would move through Congress after the two countries sign the accord.
But one Congressional aide for a textile-state member, who requested anonymity, said U.S. trade officials cannot “guarantee anything at this point.” The aide said textile-state lawmakers would be less likely to vote for a bill that does not include continued restraints for Vietnamese apparel and textile imports.
The U.S. textile industry is displeased with the trade deal the U.S. reached in principle with Vietnam that sets the terms of the country’s membership in the WTO. The domestic industry wanted an extension of existing apparel and textile quotas on Vietnam or a special textile safeguard similar to one with China.
Bhatia argued that the U.S. secured a strong enforcement mechanism that will allow the administration to reimpose apparel and textile quotas for a year if Vietnam does not completely abolish all prohibited subsidies to those industries before its accession to the WTO or within a year of joining. He said the accord gives the domestic industry “added protection from the danger [that] Vietnam might not live up to its commitments.”
National Council of Textile Organizations officials went to Capitol Hill last week seeking the advice of House Textile Caucus members on options it could pursue regarding Vietnam.
“This agreement strips the industry of its ability to defend itself against Vietnam’s subsidy regime and, as a matter of survival, we will fight very hard to make sure it is corrected in Congress,” said Cass Johnson, president of NCTO.
“Do key Republicans from textile states want to vote on a controversial trade bill three or four months before their reelection?” asked Auggie Tantillo, executive director of American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.