NEW YORK — The latest report from the International Trade Commission on the expected impact of the GATT Uruguay Round Agreement not only failed to surprise textile executives, it reconfirmed their concerns.
As reported, the ITC study said textiles and apparel will be the industries hurt most by imports and worldwide competition under the new GATT regime of liberalized trade. The report was prepared for the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, both working on implementing legislation for the GATT Agreement.
Among the conclusions were that low-end commodity apparel producers will suffer due to increased imports, and most job losses will occur in North and South Carolina at fabric producers that sell to U.S. apparel makers.
While the report said textile and apparel makers would benefit from better property rights protections under GATT, many executives remained skeptical. They also said market access remains a crucial issue, one that was not addressed in the report.
Here’s what some industry leaders had to say:
William Armfield 4th, vice chairman of Unifi and president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute: “As for the low-end manufacturers, they’ve already been hurt, and there are not that many left that are viable.
“Those that have remained have figured how to deal with the conditions as they are today.
“[The ATMI] has agreed not to oppose GATT if the implementing legislation will enable us to have effective market access, especially to India, Pakistan and China, countries that are major exporters to our country. The entire spirit of the Uruguay Round is free trade, and we can’t enjoy that with closed markets.
“I do think the implementing legislation will be completed in the next four to six weeks, in time for a GATT effective date of Jan. 1.”
Roger Milliken, chairman, Milliken & Co.: “Unfortunately this analysis confirms our worst fears about the effect of the Uruguay Round on the U.S. economy and the domestic textile and apparel industries. Of the 58 industrial sectors studied, the two with the largest negative impact were textiles and apparel.
“This agreement must be opposed by our industry if we are going to maintain credibility in Washington and in order to preserve this industry and its employment base.”
Charles A. Hayes, chairman and ceo, Guilford Mills Inc.: “What the report said doesn’t surprise me. However, I think our government needs to work to insure GATT’s viability, and that includes addressing market access, transshipments and protection of intellectual property. Global trade is great, so long as it’s done fairly. “The North American Free Trade Agreement, which is truly the best thing to happen to our industry, is proving successful. Hopefully, we can get strong legislation for GATT.”
James Marion 3rd, president, Bloomsburg Mills, and president, Textile Distributors Association: “Not having any sort of time frame makes the impact [of GATT] difficult to judge. However, if you look at the last 10 to 15 years, even with the tariffs in place, the erosion of the apparel business has been more than 15 percent. If I were a betting man, I’d say it was closer to 50 percent.
“My major concern is for mills and converters that are selling fabrics to U.S. apparel makers. A lot of us are looking at other markets, such as the industrial or home furnishings markets. There will still be an apparel market here, although somewhat smaller, for those who make high-quality fabrics, and can deliver them quickly.”
Peter Frank, division manager, Malden Mills Industries, and executive vice president, Knitted Textile Association: “Many say that our industry was written off years ago. We must combat this legislation — whenever it goes in — as we have strived to do against imports over the last 10 to 15 years by developing and producing specialty products and utilizing niche marketing. That is, and continues to be, our mission for survival.
“The government isn’t going to help us, so we have to help ourselves. We can’t compete with the Far East as far as price is concerned.”
Jim Casey, president, fibers division, Wellman Inc.: “GATT, whenever it’s put in, illustrates why it is so important to get NAFTA producing at a satisfactory level.
“If GATT is implemented the way it is currently structured, and people don’t believe in NAFTA, then it will have a negative impact on the domestic textile and apparel industries.
“On the fiber side, we are not going to feel it as much as our customer, and our customer’s customer. I don’t see the Chinese shipping a whole lot of fiber over here.”