ORLANDO, Fla. — NAFTA may be passed, and GATT signed, but the American Textile Manufacturers Institute still has an international trade battle raging — whether to fight the creation of the World Trade Organization.

The controversy highlighted the ATMI’s 45th annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Hotel here.

Under the Uruguay Round agreement, the WTO would succeed GATT as the administrator and enforcer of global trade rules.

At the directors’ meeting Thursday, kicking off the three-day convention, officials engaged in a lengthy and reportedly sometimes stormy debate over Roger Milliken, chairman of Milliken & Co., and strongly anti-WTO, tried to convince directors to oppose this provision to the GATT agreement when President Clinton sends it to Congress for approval.

ATMI was reluctant to discuss the board meeting, which one director described as a “long and passionate debate.” Some directors, requesting anonymity, said a decision was made to take no new position on GATT or the WTO at this time. Indications are that the majority of directors felt the ATMI could be more effective for the time being by negotiating points in the enabling legislation for the treaty, rather than opposing GATT provisions.

Referring to the WTO debate, Henry Truslow 3rd, ATMI president, and chairman of Sunbury Textile Mills, said in his address in the opening business session Friday: “We worked and fought for seven years to avoid damage from the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations. We dodged some bullets, others we did not. But the reality is that the hand has been dealt us; we cannot ask for a redeal. We can, however, make some judicious choices and decisions on how we will play that hand.

“In spite of what some people claim,” he added, “this industry is not facing a doomsday scenario because of the Uruguay Round.”

Milliken argues the WTO “is in effect, creating a United Nations of world trade, where the U.S. does not have a veto.”

In other ATMI news, Truslow will be succeeded by William J. Armfield, office of the chairman of Unifi Inc. as the organization’s next president.

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