When U.S. diplomats were trying to persuade Turkey to allow the use of its military bases as staging areas for the war on Iraq, one of the bargaining chips was duty-free access for Turkish textiles.
Fortunately, the bases weren't needed as U.S. special operations and Kurdish fighters overwhelmed Saddam Hussein's troops in northern Iraq. But the offer was one more example of how easily the U.S. textile industry can become a pawn in State Department negotiations.
Most farmers are aware that the U.S. textile industry has been in a depressed state. The industry stabilized somewhat in 2002 with shipments falling only slightly and textile losses turning to small profits, but it is not rebounding.
Domestic textile mills, once U.S. cotton's No. 1 customer, now account for about 40 percent of the U.S. market.
One reason for the reversal is that U.S. textile mills continue to suffer from a strong dollar that makes their products more expensive than in Asia where prices have fallen an average of 38 percent since 1997.
Another is the flood of Chinese textiles that entered the United States after quotas were removed on certain import categories following China's admission to the World Trade Organization. China's WTO accession agreement called for safeguards against such an influx but the Bush administration has yet to implement them.
Those and other issues have led the American Textile Manufacturers Institute to draft an eight-point Textile Action Plan for Growth aimed at addressing disparities in currency values, tariffs and trade agreements.
Outgoing ATMI Chairman Van May recently called on Congress and the Bush administration to support the eight-point plan. May said the U.S. government must honor its promises to make sure that the American textile industry “is not traded away and has a fair chance to compete.”
ATMI officials say the administration has supported the industry on key issues, including yarn-forward rule of origin for free trade agreements, refusing to accelerate the phase-out of textile quotas and not using the industry as a bargaining chip in the war on terrorism.
But, in other areas that could have an even greater impact on the industry's long-term survival, government actions have been disappointing, particularly its tariff proposal for textiles under the Doha Round of the world trade negotiations.
“Simply put, the proposal to bring U.S. textile and apparel tariffs to zero over a ten-year phase-in period would eliminate the textile industry as a major manufacturing entity in the United States,” the ATMI said in a statement. “It would hand over the U.S. textile market to China and devastate the industries that have been built up in Latin America.”
The statement said the administration's failure to act against currency manipulations by China and to utilize the textile safeguard provisions against China's imports also are major areas of concern.
ATMI also wants to stop attempts to weaken the Berry/Hefner Amendment, 1940s legislation that requires the U.S. military to buy American textile products. Losing that amendment and having Turkish goods entering duty-free would have been a real kick in the pants.