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Congress Moving Forward On Trade Legislation

Washinigton Outlook

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

House and Senate conferees are expected in the next few days to begin negotiations on international trade legislation that will have major implications for the United States textile industry and importers. The basic vehicle is a bill granting Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to President Bush.That legislation would authorize the president to negotiate new trade agreements that would not be subject to amendment by Congress, something other countries have insisted upon before entering into new trade negotiations.While TPA enjoys considerable support in Congress and is one of the administrations high priority items, the basic bill has been loaded up with so many highly controversial, extraneous issues that its future is in doubt. Those various add-ons are of particular importance to textile manufacturers, retailers and other importers. For instance, the trade package includes a measure that, for the first time, would grant textile and apparel trade preferences to the Andean nations of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The U.S. textile industry has objected to that legislation, charging that it will result in "vast amounts" of textile and apparel imports that would not contain U.S.-made fabric. Fears were allayed somewhat by a provision that says fabric must be dyed and finished in the U.S. in order for the apparel to qualify for the trade preferences. However, some textile state representatives feel the bill has a loophole that is not in the Senate version and they remain opposed to the Andean legislation.The House version of the TPA bill also has a provision that would double the amount of apparel made from non-U.S.-made fabric that could be exported quota-free from Sub-Saharan African nations.The Senate version of the bill contains a provision, supported by U.S. textile manufacturers, which says that any future agreements must safeguard the rights of the U.S. to invoke its anti-dumping and other trade protection measures. Legislation calling for that has been introduced in the House, but it is not contained in the omnibus trade package.What the final version of the bill will look like and whether it will have enough support to win final congressional approval is anyones guess. The House version passed by a razor-thin 215 to 214 margin with a solid bloc of textile state congressmen voting against it. In any event, its going to be a long, hot summer for trade legislation. By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent July 2002