WASHINGTON — The administration is considering elimination of the value-added tariffs on garments made in the Caribbean to grant them greater access to the U.S. market and to help them compete with Mexican apparel makers, the chairman of the House Trade Subcommittee said Tuesday.

Rep. Sam Gibbons (D., Fla.) said the administration would not entirely accept his bill to temporarily grant the more than 20 Caribbean Basin Initiative countries equal treatment with Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is, however, considering plans to liberalize textile and apparel treatment on CBI-made products under a special-access program, Gibbons said.

“I think they’ll be coming out with something on textiles,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons made these comments after a Capitol Hill press conference on GATT, where U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said the administration was “in the midst of making a decision” on how to extend NAFTA’s benefits to Caribbean manufacturers, and that an announcement would be made soon.

Any modifications in the CBI could be added to the implementing legislation for the GATT Uruguay Round treaty for liberalization of world trade, which is expected to be considered by Congress later this year.

Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.), sponsor last year of a Senate CBI parity bill, on Feb. 9 sent to President Clinton a letter signed by 15 members of the Florida delegation urging the administration to move quickly on giving Caribbean manufacturers equal treatment with those in Mexico.

“Full parity is critical for textiles and apparel, which means equivalent access to the U.S. market for CBI suppliers, tempered by similar NAFTA protections against transshipments and the abuse of origin rules,” the letter said.

Graham’s letter also referred to an administration study on the affects of NAFTA on the Caribbean.

“We understand the report concludes a potential negative impact exists, especially in the textile and apparel sectors,” the letter said. Results of the study have not been released.

Graham is drafting a new bill to waive the value-added tariff on apparel exported back to the U.S. after fabrics cut in the U.S. have been sewn in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, GATT picked up support Tuesday from a new group of more than 200,000 U.S. businesses. In the Tuesday press conference with Kantor, Jerry Junkins, chairman of Texas Instruments, said the group — dubbed the Alliance for GATT Now — backed GATT passage this year and planned to lobby Congress for quick action. Members of the alliance include the Business Roundtable, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Textile industry officials, however, continue to express their disappointment that GATT did not extend the phaseout of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement for 15 years instead of the agreed-upon 10-year period.

Jock Nash, Washington counsel for Milliken & Co., said a campaign to defeat the GATT-implementing legislation was being mounted. Pat Choate, project director of the Manufacturing Policy Project, which is partially funded by Roger Milliken, chairman of Milliken & Co., said he is preparing a study on the affects of GATT on U.S. industry that will show the pact will eliminate hundreds of thousands of textile jobs.

“If you disliked NAFTA, you’ll hate GATT,” Choate said in a telephone interview. Choate worked closely with Ross Perot in an unsuccessful campaign to defeat NAFTA. The anti-GATT campaign will not be mobilized until spring, Nash said. He said he is working with Perot’s United We Stand local organization to build grass-roots opposition to GATT.”2.X>

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