Hill Negotiators Clear Path for a Trade Bill

Hill Negotiators Clear Path for a Trade Bill

 

By Helen Dewar, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday , April 15, 2000

 

Legislation to give African, Caribbean and Central American nations more access to U.S. markets was on track yesterday for

congressional approval after House and Senate negotiators resolved their biggest dispute--dealing with apparel imports.

 

The breakthrough came as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund planned to meet here amid controversy over their role in developing countries, and as Congress moves toward a showdown next month over permanent normalizing of traderelations with China.

 

The apparel agreement, which the House approved only for Africa, was broadened to include Caribbean and Central

American countries at the insistence of the Senate.

 

But under pressure from the House, restrictions proposed by the Senate to protect the U.S. textile industry were loosened. In

general, the agreement--reached late Thursday--is a blend of the free-trade approach of the House and the more protectionist

tendencies of the Senate.

 

Congressional negotiators said they expect to wrap up other, less contentious aspects of the legislation shortly, and Senate

Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said he expects final approval by the end of May.

 

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who weighed in personally to help nail down the apparel compromise at a Thursday

evening session in Lott's office, said he will schedule a House vote as soon as possible. An aide said the vote could come

shortly after the House returns from a two-week recess.

 

Congressional leaders are anxious to avoid delays that could cause an unraveling of the agreement, which has been six months

in the making.

 

In general, the agreement would provide duty-free access to apparel made from local as well as U.S.-made fabric, subject to

limits on the volume of goods made from non-U.S. fabrics.

 

The poorest countries of Africa would receive duty-free treatment without regard to the source of their fabric for four years.

 

The House had originally proposed no caps on the volume of imports. The Senate had earlier proposed that African-assembled garments use only U.S. fabrics for export to this country.

 

"This agreement marks a significant milestone for a strong and meaningful trade mechanism in the African and Caribbean Basin

regions," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer (R-Tex.).

 

"This bill will make a significant difference in the lives of millions of Africans," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), ranking

Democrat on the panel. "It will create jobs in Africa and jobs in America. . . . It is an important foundation on which to continue to build a close relationship between the U.S. and Africa."

 

Congress has not passed a major trade bill since it authorized U.S. participation in the World Trade Organization in 1994.

More recently, it refused to grant President Clinton "fast track" authority to negotiate trade agreements.

 

2000 The Washington Post Company