- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

The Bush administration is walking a political tightrope over Pakistani demands for lower tariffs on its clothing exports, a move that would infuriate textile-state lawmakers whose support the president needs this week to pass a major trade bill.
Pakistan, hurt by American buyers who have abandoned the country in the wake of the U.S. military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan, wants lower tariffs to lure customers back early next year.
In a bind, the White House is gingerly telling both the Pakistanis and U.S. lawmakers that the administration will discuss the matter but is for now avoiding promises to either side.
"It's something we're working on with the Hill and the Pakistanis," White House spokesman Sean McCormick said yesterday.
The White House was preparing a package of textile-related benefits for Pakistan but abruptly pulled the plug on that plan shortly before Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited Washington last month, congressional sources said. But most people involved with the issue believe it is sure to come up after a scheduled House vote Thursday on "fast-track" trade-negotiating authority.
Fast-track authority would allow President Bush to negotiate trade agreements and submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote, a power the White House has not had since it expired in 1994. Without this authority, Mr. Bush cannot wrap up negotiations with Latin American countries for a planned free-trade deal or talks for a global accord in the World Trade Organization.
The vote on fast track is expected to be close, with many Republicans preparing to join most Democrats in sinking the bill. As a result, trade benefits for Pakistan are on hold.
"As far as I know, it's on the back burner until after the trade vote," said Rep. Sue Myrick, North Carolina Republican.
Mrs. Myrick, with about a dozen other lawmakers who have textile interests in their districts, are exploiting the close vote by bargaining for a "commitment that Congress will not take up any legislation reducing tariffs on Pakistani textiles," according to a list of demands they submitted to the White House last week.
For Pakistan, improved access to the U.S. textile and apparel market the largest in the world has emerged as a potential economic lifeline amid economic chaos. Pakistan's textile exports total $5.8 billion, and about $1.8 billion of that goes to the United States.
It ships bed linens and T-shirts to the United States, and such well-known brands as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein contract with producers in Pakistan.
But U.S. retailers and importers began canceling orders from Pakistani factories after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent U.S. military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.
U.S. retailers have said privately they also worry about negative consumer reactions to a "Made in Pakistan" label.
Aleema Khan, a textile buyer based in Pakistan, said the business environment is peaceful. But orders from the United States have dropped by 70 percent compared with last year, triggering a deep recession in Pakistan.
The best way to channel business back to Pakistan would be to reduce or eliminate tariffs on its textile and apparel exports to the United States, which range between 7 percent and 10 percent, according to industry analysts.
That would require an act of Congress.
Pakistani officials have pressed the issue repeatedly in meetings with Bush administration officials.
But lawmakers like Mrs. Myrick fear that the U.S. industry, which has been progressively moving offshore for decades, will lose jobs to Pakistan.
The Pakistani industry has formed an association, the Pakistan Textiles and Apparel Group, to advocate trade preferences in the United States.
It also has hired a public relations firm and lobbyist Ron Sorini, formerly the top U.S. trade official for textiles.

Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, eager to have access to cheaper clothing from Pakistan, also have lent their backing to the effort.

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