WASHINGTON — Public Citizen, the watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader, has taken past and present administrations to task in a new report on what it described as “broken promises” made to members of Congress in exchange for votes on trade agreements.
The organization’s report, “Trade Wars — Revenge of the Myth: When Trade Vote Deals Go Bad,” was released Thursday as the Bush administration intensifies its effort to galvanize support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement and prepares to send it to Congress.
In a section on textiles and apparel, the study said Republican and Democratic administrations have made concessions — ultimately unfulfilled — to obtain votes of textile-state lawmakers. In the recent political maneuvering over CAFTA, the administration made three commitments to the National Council of Textile Organizations in exchange for its endorsement.
Public Citizen said the pledge to change a provision of the pact to require that pocketing fabric come from the U.S. or six signatory countries “was a deal designed to be evaded.” Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.) recently said she would vote for CAFTA based on the commitment made by U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman to seek a change to the provision.
However, any amendments have to be approved by the other countries involved in the deal — Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic — and the leaders of those nations have not committed to the proposed change. In addition, any switch to the rule of origin, including the pocketing change, must have Congressional approval.
The report said a promise by Nicaragua “to preserve current U.S. orders” and not replace them with a CAFTA allowance permitting limited use of foreign fabric and yarns was “unenforceable.”
Public Citizen also criticized the council of textile organizations, charging the organization based its endorsement on “thin deals.”
The “action has led to no surge in votes from members of Congress with textile interests in their districts [other than Dole], perhaps because they see the empty promises for what they are,” the study said.
Cass Johnson, president of the textile group, said, “These are not empty promises. We didn’t predict people would start coming out until the agreement was brought before Congress and I still believe we will see significant textile support.”
Johnson said lawmakers will weigh a number of issues before casting their votes, including how companies in their districts are leaning and other actions the administration takes on behalf of the industry, such as imposing China safeguard quotas.
Johnson cited previous commitments to the textile industry that have been kept, such as when the Bush administration was trying to secure votes for Trade Promotion Authority in 2002. The administration promised to not speed up quota phaseout ahead of the Jan. 1, 2005 schedule, as some countries and import groups wanted.
But the report cites an “unfulfilled” pledge during those same negotiations on TPA, which narrowly passed. The administration pledged to allocate $9.5 million to hire 72 textile inspectors to fight violations such as transshipments. Last month — two years after Congress approved the funding — U.S. Customs & Border Protection, under pressure from several lawmakers, finally said it would start hiring. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a letter to a lawmaker that by the end of 2006, the agency expects to fill all of the positions.
President Clinton, the report said, during negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement, promised textile-state lawmakers a five-year delay in the phaseout of global quotas until 2010, but within weeks U S. negotiators accepted the original deadline.
A spokesman at the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which opposes CAFTA, acknowledged that some members of Congress try to cut deals with the White House, but said others are looking for “a fig leaf of cover” to vote for the agreement.
“The moral of the story is: Get paid up front,” the spokesman said. “This report delineates one of the reasons why CAFTA’s proponents are having a difficult time getting traction.”
Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, which supports CAFTA, said: “I think trying to cut side deals in separate sectors to pass legislation is not the best way to make policy or pass laws in the U.S. However, there are many times industry groups or interest groups are disappointed with the effect of what any administration has done.”