WASHINGTON — The House Textile Caucus laid out its trade agenda for GATT, China, increased worldwide market access and expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement in a meeting last week with U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor and chief textile negotiator Jennifer Hillman.
“We had a good meeting,” Caucus chairman John Spratt (D., S.C.) said in an interview following the session, which was attended by about 25 Caucus members. “Whether we get everything we want remains to be seen, but they seemed to be supportive.”
On GATT, the Caucus is concerned about the timing of quota phaseouts on import-sensitive textiles under the Uruguay Round treaty for world trade liberalization, Spratt said. The Caucus urged a continuation of the current system, in which the United States government’s Committee for Implementation of Textile Agreements determines the timing of phaseouts. Retailers and importers have asked that the decisions not be made by CITA, but in a more public forum such as an international trade organization so their industries could influence the decisions.
On an expansion of NAFTA to Latin America, the textile caucus asked that the administration not rush to include Caribbean Basin Initiative countries in NAFTA.
“We should first validate the effects of NAFTA before expanding it to other countries,” Spratt said. Kantor indicated that the administration had a “go-slow attitude” on expanding NAFTA benefits to the CBI, Spratt said.
As a precaution against any surge in Chinese imports, the Caucus wants to insure that the administration does not agree to extend GATT benefits to China. The Caucus also stressed that the administration should cautiously approach extending lower-tariff benefits to Vietnam.
The Caucus declared it is looking for progress in the ongoing market-access negotiations with India, Pakistan, Thailand and other countries that restrict imports of U.S. textiles.
Spratt said the caucus presented three options for leveraging more open markets. The first would be to threaten expulsion from the World Trade Organization — the new name for GATT — unless they open their markets to exports; the second would be to limit benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences, which is up for renewal this year, and the third would be to raise tariffs that the U.S. agreed to cut in the earlier GATT negotiations that ended Dec. 15. Under GATT rules, the United States has from Feb. 15 to March 15 to counter with higher tariffs in the market-access talks.
Spratt acknowledged that the last option of raising tariffs may “not be feasible” with the general mood in Washington favoring free trade.