After being assured that the administration had worked out an agreement with the textile industry, the House Ways and Means Committee speedily reported out a bill yesterday waiving countervailing duties on imported goods subsidized by foreign governments.
Extension of the waiver died in the closing days of the last session, and Congress' failure to extend the waiver had held up conclusion of a new trade agreement in Geneva, a pact avidly sought by the administration.
With unusual speed, both the trade subcommittee and the full Ways and Means Committee passed the waiver yesterday, and Ways and Means Chairman A1 Ullman (D-Ore.) said the bill could come up on the House floor as early as next week.
Trade Subcommittee Chairman Charles Vanik (D-Ohio) had been refusing to move the bill until the White House negotiated an agreement with the textile industry.
The textile industry fears a new trade pact would subject beleagured American manufacturers to even stiffer competition from abroad. Last year, the textile industry succeeded in getting an amendment passed to a minor Carson City silver dollar bill preventing Americans from negotiating tariff cuts on textiles in Geneva.
President Carter vetoed the bill, but the industry was threatening to attach similar language to the countervailing-duty bill, and Vanik wanted the issue resolved before moving the bill.
Details of the administration's agreement with the textile industry were not made public, but it is believed the agreement includes some review of bilateral agreements covering textile imports, some restraints on textile imports from the Peoples Republic of China and a government effort to promote competition for U.S. textile exports.
The president's special trade negotiator, Robert Strauss, assured the committee yesterday that both the textile industry and unions are happy with the agreement.
The bill contains only about 12 waivers amounting to about $47 mililon in duties on some $600 million in subsidized imports, a small amount in trade terms. But Europeans and other countries are threatening to hold off final approval of a new trade pact until the waiver is extended.
The controversy arose because, in laying the groundwork for the current round of trade talks, the 1974 Tade Act empowered the Treasury to make selective waivers of countervailing duties on subsidized imports but only until Jan. 3 of this year.
The bill makes the waiver retroactive to Jan. 3 and continues it until Sept. 30.
Relatively minor items such as Danish butter cookies, cheese, steel plate, Canadian fish and Brazilian textiles are covered in the bill, but it has become symbolic and portends a much tougher fight when the trade agreement itself finally is negotiated.