WASHINGTON — The board of the National Council of Textile Organizations, a key ally on the Central American Free Trade Agreement, said Wednesday it “would not support and could actively oppose” new trade deals until the administration agrees to pursue a separate textile sectoral in the global trade talks, and continued restraints on apparel and textile imports from Vietnam.
“If the U.S. government pursues trade agreements which undermine the benefits of Peru, Colombia or CAFTA, there is no reason for us to support [new] agreements,” said NCTO president Cass Johnson. “In fact, there is no reason for the industry to support the U.S. trade agenda. We can be the people who bring those final votes” in Congress.
Free-trade deals have been negotiated with Peru and Colombia and are pending in Congress.
Johnson’s remarks at a press conference marked a break in a relationship the NCTO forged with the administration last summer in an effort to persuade House textile-state lawmakers to vote for CAFTA, which eked through by two votes.
“We’re disappointed that NCTO has taken this position,” said a spokeswoman in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. “We secured a good deal for them in CAFTA, Peru and Colombia, and will continue to seek their input as we negotiate other agreements.”
The friction centers around a trade deal the U.S. reached in principle with Vietnam on Sunday, laying out the terms of the country’s membership in the World Trade Organization and how textiles will be treated in global trade talks. The textile industry wanted an extension of existing apparel and textile quotas on Vietnam or a special textile safeguard similar to one with China, but did not receive either in the Vietnam bilateral deal. Apparel and textile imports from Vietnam are now limited by quotas, but they will be removed if the country’s bid to join the WTO succeeds.
The industry has also pushed for textiles and apparel to be handled separately in WTO trade talks in hopes of keeping tariffs higher and imposing restrictions on nonmarket economies like Vietnam and China.
The administration, the USTR spokeswoman said, “secured a tough commitment from Vietnam that they will completely abolish all prohibited subsidies to the textile and apparel industries before its accession, and we built in an unprecedented enforcement mechanism which enables us to reimpose quotas for a year if Vietnam does not comply with its obligations within the first 12 months of accession.”
But in an interview, Johnson said, “The administration has sent conflicting signals in the [WTO] talks and negative signals on the interim pact with Vietnam, which has not been completed. We want to support their agenda, but they are making it awfully tough for us to do that.”
NCTO executives also met with some 20 House Textile Caucus members Wednesday to urge them to turn up the pressure on the administration on the two critical trade issues.