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Ross Enters Fray On Central America Trade Pact

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Ross Enters Fray on Central America Trade PactIt didnt take long for textile investor Wilbur Ross to enter the fray surrounding a key textile and apparel trade issue. Ross, who recently bought Burlington Industries and is attempting to acquire Cone Mills, called a meeting on December 3 with a group of textile manufacturers and apparel importers in an effort to reach compromises on issues in the proposed Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The highly controversial issues are the use of cumulation and a short supply list in the proposed free trade agreement between the United States and five Central American nations. Cumulation would permit the use of fiber, yarn or fabric inputs in apparel products from countries that are not signatories to the trade pact. In addition, importers have given the US Commerce Department a lengthy list of products they claim are in short supply and should be incorporated in the CAFTA agreement. If that were to happen, signatories to the agreement could use inputs from any country, and the apparel products would qualify for quota- and tariff-free treatment.The short supply proposals would, among other things, pave the way for use of yarn and fabrics in a CAFTA made in NAFTA countries, including Mexico, Ross Burlington Industries and Cone Mills have denim mills in Mexico. Denim was on the importers short supply list which means they do not believe they can get adequate supplies of denim in the US Domestic textile trade associations are vehemently opposed to cumulation and contend that most of the products on the proposed short supply list, including 10-ounce ring-spun denim, are available from US sources.The ad hoc group of textile manufacturers and importers assembled by Ross agreed to support cumulation provided there is adequate enforcement of rules against illegal transshipments. The group also called for a meaningful short supply list and timely and transparent procedures in determining short supply.Companies that participated in the meeting were AMC/Target , Asheboro Elastics, Burlington Industries, Coats North America, Cone Mills, Dan River Mills, GaleyandLord , Gap Inc., Jockey International, Kellwood Co., Limited Brands/MAST Industries, Parkdale Mills, J.C. Penney, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., Sara Lee Branded Apparel, VF Corp., Wal-Mart Stores and Warnaco.By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent December 2003