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Why Protectionism Will Boomerang : A concerned Secretary of State Baker rightly implores Congress not to do it

September 16, 1990

This is no time to send mixed signals when it comes to diplomacy and trade. The United States is forging a historic alliance to confront Iraqi aggression, but efforts in Washington to pass protectionist trade legislation are undermining our other international commitments. If Washington clings to parochial domestic interests, it risks the quid pro quo goodwill needed to loosen international restrictions that hurt U.S. trade abroad.

The House of Representatives is scheduled this week for a crucial vote on a textile bill that would significantly strengthen three decades of existing protectionist quotas and make them permanent. The Senate already has overwhelmingly passed a similar measure that would severely restrict imports of textiles, apparel and footwear each year. The Bush Administration opposes the bill.

The textile and apparel industries already are heavily protected by about 1,000 quotas established in 38 bilateral agreements negotiated under the international Multifiber Agreement. Two of those agreements involve Turkey and Egypt, countries adversely affected by economic sanctions against Iraq.

In letter to the House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, Secretary of State James A. Baker III expressed his concern that passage of the textile legislation "would compound the problems being faced by a number of countries which have stood with us in the (Persian) Gulf crisis despite the economic losses they have been incurring."

The protectionist textile legislation threatens the Administration's commitment to bring the current round of international trade talks to a successful conclusion in December. The House and Senate also are working on a farm bill that would continue heavy subsidies to U.S. farmers. Both bills conflict with the goal of the trade talks: to reform restrictive trade practices and to create new trading rules for services and investments.

U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills echoed objections to the textile bill: "To pass such a piece of protectionistic legislation closing the U.S. market after 3 1/2 years of negotiating to open world markets will be seen as the height of hypocrisy--in essence saying to the world 'do was we say, not as we do.' "

The cost is not only to our trading reputation and partners but to U.S. consumers as well. Opponents estimate that the clothing costs for a family of four would increase about $500 over the next five years if the bill passes. The textile bill is simply the wrong idea at the wrong time.

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