Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, in two stops Friday in North Carolina, outlined plans for the Textile Working Group, which is charged with finding ways through trade policy and Customs enforcement to make the domestic textile industry competitive again.
“Both the President and I are committed to doing what it takes to ensure that this industry can compete in world markets,” Evans said in a statement after speaking to textile executives and workers at Burlington Industries’ Rockingham fabric plant and at the Center for Applied Textiles in Belmont.
Capitol Hill lawmakers from Southern states have been pressing for the Bush administration to do a better job at cracking down on imports that circumvent quotas and tariffs and to negotiate trade deals with more of an eye to opening up foreign markets to U.S. textile exports.
In order to get the administration’s attention, several House Republican textile-state lawmakers said they wouldn’t vote in favor of granting the President Trade Promotion Authority unless the administration did more for the industry. Such assurances helped TPA pass, but only by one vote.
Details offered by Commerce officials about the working group were sketchy. Particularly lacking was an explanation as to how the group of officials from various agencies, including Commerce, Treasury, Justice and the U.S. Trade Representative, will differ from interagency functions already overseen by the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements. CITA, which is part of Commerce, was created during the Nixon administration and oversees U.S. textile-trade policy.
A Commerce official, involved in the working group, said CITA will be involved in the new task force. The official said there are some areas to be tackled by the task force that aren’t now handled by CITA, like worker assistance and export promotion. The official said, “The primary point here is the administration wants (textile trade issue) decisions made at a very senior level.”
An Evans spokesman described the working group as being focused only on the domestic textile industry and making it competitive. In addition to increased Customs enforcement and greater foreign market access for textiles, the spokesman said the group will work with textile-state members of Congress on a bill granting textile-trade breaks for Pakistan that “minimizes the impact on the domestic industry.”
Rep. Robin Hayes (R., N.C.), one of the lawmakers that used his TPA vote as a bargaining chip, said the working group shows that “for the first time in a long time, textiles are now a priority for a President and his administration.”
Ross Haymes, chief economist at Burlington Industries, which is in Chapter 11, said he hopes the working group will “serve as a focal point” for textile issues. Haymes said, “This puts some specific responsibilities on the group.”