Cotton Concession Gives Bush Fast Track Authority

Cotton Concession Gives Bush
Fast Track Authority



How Pro-Textile Votes Held Sway in Trade Bill Passage
Legislation: House members acted to protect an industry hit hard
by imports in granting Bush a major victory.

December 7 2001

WASHINGTON -- He based his public appeals on far grander
themes, but President Bush stitched together his one-vote majority
on a major trade measure with cotton thread from the Carolinas.

The House voted, 215 to 214, to expand Bush's authority to negotiate
trade deals after hearing repeated exhortations about the need to
preserve America's international prestige and economic prowess.

But that's not what put "fast track" over the top. To get the final few
votes they needed to prevail, the White House and its congressional
allies had to cut a deal with Rep. James DeMint (R-S.C.). "They were
four votes short. The time had expired. They were looking everywhere
for votes, and they couldn't get them. So they came to me," DeMint said.

He got what he wanted: a signed letter promising congressional action
to make sure that apparel assembled in Caribbean Basin countries is
made from fabric dyed, printed or finished in the United States to qualify
for duty-free, quota-free treatment.

It was one of several side deals negotiated in the final hours to win
over small, but crucial, blocs of votes.

Others involved promises to shelter Florida citrus growers and
Pennsylvania steel producers from some of the creative destruction
wrought by international trade.

Although critics accused the administration of abandoning its principles,
and the swing voters of selling out, some trade advocates insisted that
Bush got the better end of the bargain.

"It's literally like on the battlefield: You do what you have to do," said
Gary Clyde Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Institute for International
Economics and a former U.S. trade official. "It was absolutely a necessary
cost, whatever he gave."

A negative vote, Hufbauer said, "would have been a shot heard around
the world against globalization."

If so, the last-minute deal with DeMint may have kept globalization on track.

DeMint is a key member of the Textile Caucus--lawmakers whose districts
contain textile plants in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.

The labor-intensive industry has been hard hit by foreign competition.

U.S. imports of textiles and apparel soared from $8.6 billion in 1980 to
$77.5 billion last year, after adjusting for inflation. Employment fell from
2.1 million to 1.2 million over the same 20-year period. According to the
American Textile Manufacturers Institute, textile makers lost $369 million
last year and shut down more than 100 mills.

Several members of the Textile Caucus told the White House that they
would vote against fast track, officially known as trade promotion authority,
unless it made several commitments to help the ailing industry.

The administration went along with some of the proposals. But the two
sides were still far apart on the seemingly arcane, but ultimately critical,
"dyeing-and-finishing" dispute.

Under the Caribbean Basin Trade Preference Act, which took effect
in October 2000, countries like the Dominican Republic and Honduras
can avoid U.S. quotas and tariffs on shirts, trousers and other apparel
if they assemble them from fabric made in the United States.

But it was unclear whether the law allowed them to buy unfinished
cloth from U.S. mills and then dye, print and finish it themselves. The "
Customs Service ruled that the Caribbean countries could do their
own dyeing and finishing. Caucus members wanted to overturn that
ruling and keep the finishing work in the United States. Thousands
of jobs were at stake, they said.

At one point, Ways and Means Chairman William M. Thomas
(R-Bakersfield) proposed a compromise: Woven apparel, such as
denim jeans and dress shirts, would have to use U.S.-finished fabric,
but knit apparel, such as T-shirts and polo shirts, would not. The
proposal was backed by U.S. clothing retailers and some importers
but opposed by textile makers. The Textile Caucus said no deal.

Going into Thursday's vote, the administration wouldn't budge.
So DeMint took his place on the floor, prepared to vote against
the legislation. But he carried in his pocket the draft of the letter
that would commit the administration to the change that the
caucus was seeking.

It was legislative brinkmanship, and it worked.

"I had the letter with me on the floor," DeMint said in an interview
shortly after the vote. "Chairman Thomas had said he would not
agree to this. But the leaders of the House said they would. They
signed it. I changed my vote. I went and got a few other textile folks
who were going the other way and got them to vote for it. We passed it."

DeMint said he considers the outcome a win for both sides. The
caucus got several big concessions for their besieged industry, and
Bush got the trade promotion authority he was seeking. "It was key
to me," he said. "I wanted to support the president and TPA, but I
wasn't going to do it without this." For information about reprinting
this article, go to


Timi Gerson
Organizer/FTAA Coordinator
Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch
215 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, Washington DC, 20003 USA &
Ph: + 202-454-5103, Fax: + 202-547 7392

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