WASHINGTON — The campaign to win Congressional approval of the GATT Uruguay Round treaty won some points this week — and lost some.
At a press conference Wednesday, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.) produced six members who opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and who say they will back GATT.
Gephardt, who also voted against NAFTA, said,”The bottom line is that we believe GATT will help the economy to grow. It will create jobs.”
At the same time, the administration’s plan to include parity with NAFTA for apparel makers in the Caribbean Basin Initiative countries is expected to cost GATT some votes.
A House aide close to the trade debate predicted that CBI parity would particularly rankle the footwear and textile caucuses. Also, many of those who opposed NAFTA might seize CBI parity as a reason to oppose GATT because it is a “unilateral grant of preference” that will not receive separate Congressional consideration, the aide said.
As expected, Vice President Al Gore announced the parity plan in Honduras Tuesday during a meeting with Central American officials.
House Textile Caucus Chairman John Spratt (D., S.C.) and caucus member L.F. Payne (D., Va.) reiterated their dislike of CBI parity within GATT and said they were surprised when U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor telephoned them Tuesday to tell them of the decision.
Payne said he told Kantor it would be difficult for him to vote for GATT now because CBI parity could mean lost jobs in his southwestern Virginia district.
“It’s not something that should be in GATT,” Payne said.
Spratt said he had been discussing CBI parity with the administration for more than a year.
“We should test NAFTA before we extend those benefits to the CBI,” Spratt said. While the stricter yarn-forward rule of origin under NAFTA will apply to Caribbean countries, Spratt questioned whether it would protect U.S. textile makers.
“The rule of origin is only as good as its enforcement, and we will be dealing with more than 20 Customs departments.”
Those who joined Gephardt Wednesday in announcing their support of GATT were Reps. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), Barbara Kennelly (D., Conn.), Robert Torricelli (D., N.J.), Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.), Sam Gejdenson (D., Conn.) and Jane Harman (D., Calif.).
Gephardt, who has in the past urged the administration to delay consideration of GATT until next year, said he thought it could be done this year.
However, he added, “We should do it when we’re ready, and we’re not there yet.”
With the administration reportedly slated to send the implementing legislation for GATT to Capitol Hill today, union officials lined up against the parity plan immediately. Jack Sheinkman, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union president, said, “With over 10 percent unemployment in our apparel industry, parity will only exacerbate the loss of jobs here.”
Herman Starobin, ILGWU research director, chided the administration “for trying to rush the GATT through to start Jan 1.”
“The agreement runs for over 22,000 pages, nobody understands it and creation of the World Trade Organization [as a successor to GATT] is controversial enough to suggest that Congress needs more time to understand what it is voting on,” Starobin said.
Taking a longer view, Laura Jones, executive vice president for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, forecast parity would not bring about any significant changes in sourcing. Under the Uruguay Round, she reasoned, import duties will be reduced and quotas eliminated within a decade, offsetting parity’s benefits to CBI manufacturers.
Meanwhile, GATT, along with health care reform, faces a potential delay in the House Ways and Means Committee, because chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D., Ill.) is facing a federal indictment involving accusations that he misused office expense accounts. He could be forced out of his chairmanship, though not necessarily out of Congress. His departure from the helm of the panel is viewed by Democrats and Republicans as a threat to the already-precarious health care reform package and a hurdle for GATT.
If Rostenkowski resigns as committee chairman, Rep. Sam Gibbons (D., Fla.), chairman of the panel’s Trade Subcommittee, is in line to take the chairmanship. One committee Democrat acknowledged that without Rostenkowski, both measures would face difficulties when they reached the House floor and when the House versions were reconciled with Senate plans.
Also, House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R., Ill.) said he wouldn’t “sell Sam Gibbons short” in his ability to build consensus and forge compromises on the two bills, but noted that Gibbons does not have the experience Rostenkowski has.
“Rostenkowski has been such a powerful, dominant figure for so long that anything that is on track would tend to slip,” he said.