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Washington Outlook Archive

Textile Makers Oppose Part Of Trans-Pacific Pact

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

As the Obama administration announced that it is entering into negotiations of a seven-nation Trans-Pacific Strategic Partnership Agreement (TPP), textile manufactures want Vietnam excluded, claiming it is "the next China."

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk has written to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., advising them that President Barack Obama intends to enter into negotiations of a "high-standard, broad-based regional agreement" with Trans-Pacific nations Australia, Brunei, Chile, Darussalam, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam as a means to advance US economic interests with what Kirk says are "the fastest growing economies in the world."

Pointing out that the Trans-Pacific nations already are "key destinations" for US exports, Kirk is concerned that a number of regional pacts have been negotiated in the area, and the United States is not a party. "While the United States has concluded some agreements, there are now 175 preferential trade agreements in force that include Asia-Pacific nations, another 20 are awaiting implementation, and 50 others are under negotiation, he said. "These agreements, as well as other economic developments, have led to a significant decline in the US share of Asia-Pacific markets over the past decade."

Kirk said the Obama administration hopes to reverse this trend, enhance US competitiveness and provide more job opportunities for US workers.

Immediately following the announcement, the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) expressed its "strong concern" about the Obama administration's decision to move ahead with free trade talks that include Vietnam. NCTO President Cass Johnson said: "We are very concerned, and we think Congress should be too, in the midst of enormous manufacturing job losses, that the Administration is proposing a free trade agreement [FTA] with a country that is widely regarded as 'the next China.' It seems like the last thing our country needs is opening up our economy to another China lookalike.

"NCTO's objections are based on claims that Vietnam is a non-market economy that manipulates its currency, depends on exports for growth, has no labor rights and has made unions illegal, and has a rising trade deficit with the United States.

In his letter to the congressional leaders, Kirk acknowledged that integrating Vietnam into a high-standard agreement will be a challenge, as will some issues with already existing agreements.

"We will have to confront big challenges, from rationalizing rules of origin among our current FTA partners to addressing agricultural, developmental and labor challenges elsewhere by adding additional countries," Kirk said in additional comments released to the public. "With our initial group of partners we expect to break new ground to create a true 21st century trade agreement."

Kirk said he will intensify consultations with Congress and stakeholders to seek the  "highest economic benefits" for US workers, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and service providers. Initial steps in that direction include a Federal Register notice calling for comments and creation of a new webpage -- www.ustr.gov/tpp -- to provide ongoing information to the public.

December 22, 2009