WASHINGTON — With retailers and textile executives helping the cause, the White House was optimistic Wednesday it will have enough support to achieve GATT ratification when the Senate votes on the worldwide trade pact today.

While officially neutral on the agreement, top textile executives were actively working Capitol Hill. William J. Armfield 4th, vice chairman of Unifi Inc., Greensboro, N.C., and president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, along with past ATMI president Donald R. Hughes, vice chairman of Burlington Industries Inc., Greensboro, called on Sens. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.), Lauch Faircloth (R., N.C.) and Paul Coverdell (R., Ga.) urging them to support GATT.

“We are telling them how important the implementing legislation is,” Armfield said. “This has many ramifications for the textile industries, and it’s the best bill we’ll get.”

The agreement, while phasing out the Multi-Fiber Agreement and its quota system in 10 years, offsets some of the damage feared by the U.S. industry by changing the rule of origin on apparel from the country where it’s cut to the place it is sewn.

Armfield said there’s been some confusion about ATMI’s stance on GATT since even though the industry is officially neutral, it’s lobbying for today’s vote. “Some are not clear about our position and we wanted to make that interpretation ourselves,” he said.

The renewed push by the National Retail Federation was apparently having some effect as well. Objecting to the rule-of-origin change. the NRF had moved to the sidelines of the GATT battle in September, but got back into it this week, as reported. On Tuesday, letters in support of GATT with the signatures of many key retailers were hand-delivered by the NRF to each Senate office, and they appeared to entering into the decisions of several senators.

Sen. Dave Durenberger (R., Minn.), a GATT supporter, said the retailers are convincing because they “employ a lot of constituents.” He also pointed to the influence the retail industry had on the health care debate when it argued successfully against employer mandates.

Durenberger’s office also has heard continuously from Minneapolis-based Dayton Hudson Corp., according to a Durenberger staffer, and its lobbying “certainly has helped.”

Sen. Bob Packwood (R., Ore.), incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also said the NRF’s help was needed and “appreciated” in the closing hours of the debate.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, flush from the overwhelming GATT vote Tuesday in the House, traipsed Capitol Hill corridors throughout the day pressing for GATT converts in the Senate. Kantor predicted victory and said they would not quit lobbying until the vote. “We want to make this as big a victory as possible,” he said. – Fairchild News Service

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