- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

Sen. Richard C. Shelby has put his foot down on new trade legislation.
And that foot is wearing an Alabama-made sock.
Mr. Shelby, Alabama Republican, has placed a hold on a "miscellaneous trade act," approved by the Senate Finance Committee last week, until his colleagues address trade matters that affect sock manufacturers, according to a spokeswoman.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Finance Committee, said he hopes for approval as soon as possible.
"When our manufacturing sector is lagging and when we're looking for ways to stimulate the economy and create jobs, it's important to pass this bill to allow benefits of international trade to accrue to American workers," he said.
A similar version of the bill was approved by the House this week.
But Mr. Shelby does not want the Senate to vote on the legislation until his colleagues address the status of socks. So he has placed a hold on the measure, a parliamentary maneuver that allows an individual senator to delay legislation.
The delay is an attention-grabber that is supposed to last a reasonable period of time, which can stretch into weeks.
Mr. Shelby's concern arises from the Trade Act of 2002, which was signed into law last year and, among other things, changed the system of tariffs and quotas for socks.
Before the act, socks sewn in the Caribbean Basin, 24 countries in the Caribbean and Central America, faced trade barriers in the form of duties and quotas. Since the law went into effect, socks made out of U.S.-produced yarn and knit to shape in the United States can be sent to a Caribbean Basin country to have the toe sewn together, then be sent to the United States duty- and quota-free.
The result?
"There are thousands of jobs at stake in the state of Alabama," said Andrea Andrews, spokeswoman for Mr. Shelby.
Companies say they are feeling the effects through tougher competition and lower sales.
"We are a family-owned company and a domestic company that would like to stay domestic. We've invested dearly in technology … with hopes of being able to compete with offshore competition," said Bobby Cole, president of Prewett Hosiery Mills, a Fort Payne, Ala., sock manufacturer.
Although it is difficult to quantify the losses directly related to the Caribbean initiative, Mr. Cole said that so far company sales are lower this year than in 2002.
Prewett sells about $185 million a year of products to discount chains such as Wal-Mart and Target. The company employs about 2,200 workers.
If approved, the Miscellaneous Trade and Technical Corrections Act of 2003 would:
Temporarily reduce or eliminate duties on a number of products U.S. manufacturers import and use to make other goods.
Help Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt and other countries allies in the war on terrorism by lowering tariffs on handmade rugs.
Restore normal trade relations to Serbia and Montenegro, formerly Yugoslavia.
In addition, Mr. Shelby wants socks restored to their pre-Trade Act status, his spokeswoman said.
Mr. Grassley's office said the senator would talk with Mr. Shelby and try to resolve the impasse, though no solution has been forwarded and no vote is scheduled.
"Sen. Grassley worked hard to make sure that the bill was noncontroversial … and was designed to help U.S. manufacturers be more competitive in the international economy. But I'm sure he will be willing to talk over Sen. Shelby's concerns with him," a spokeswoman said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide