A U.S. congressional delegation ran into a barrage of complaints today from Thai government, business and labor leaders about a controversial House bill that would cut back sharply on Asian textile and garment exports to the United States.
The bill, which has inspired outrage from Peking to Bangkok and beyond, has made its leading sponsor, Rep. Edgar Jenkins (D-Ga.), probably the best known American congressman in Asia and more famous in many Asian capitals than in parts of his home state.
Known officially as the Textile and Apparel Trade and Enforcement Act, the "Jenkins bill," as it is called here, would slash Thailand's textile export revenue by more than 64 percent, throw 100,000 Thais out of work and ultimately affect the lives of nearly 2 million people, according to industry estimates.
If passed, the bill also would cut Indonesian textile income by 85 percent, China's by nearly 60 percent and Taiwan's, South Korea's and Pakistan's by about a third, opponents say.
The aim of the bill is to protect the hard-hit U.S. clothing industry by putting restrictive new quotas on Asian textile products. The measure's sponsors charge that Asian imports already have cost Americans 300,000 jobs and continue to grow rapidly.
Asian critics say the bill is discriminatory as well as protectionist because it exempts textile and garment imports from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean Basin and the European Economic Community.
In a news conference after a day of talks with government and business leaders, members of the eight-person delegation led by the chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, Sam M. Gibbons (D-Fla.), said today they hoped a compromise could be worked out that would protect Asian developing countries and staunch U.S. friends such as Thailand from the harshest effects of the bill.
However, they said they expected the Jenkins bill to pass both houses of Congress and possibly gain enough votes to override a potential veto by President Reagan. They said that with the United States running a $150 billion-a-year trade deficit, they were under growing political and economic pressure to act decisively.
One cosponsor of the Jenkins bill, Rep. Beryl F. Anthony Jr. (D-Ark.), complained that Thailand also practiced protectionism by banning or heavily taxing commodities produced in his home state, such as soybeans, wheat and cotton.
"The bottom line is this: The economic engine in the United States is running out of fuel," Anthony said. "We need to do something today to protect our workers in the future."
The Thais expressed concern that economic dislocations caused by the import curbs would stir social and political unrest. To head that off, Deputy Prime Minister Bhichai Rattakul today urged the prime minister, Prem Tinsulanond, to phone President Reagan to lobby for a veto.
Upon arrival here over the weekend, the House delegation was greeted by polite demonstrators, mostly women textile workers, carrying banners that pleaded "Help us to solve textile problems" and "Stop using a quota please dear Uncle Sam."
Thanat Khoman, a former deputy prime minister, had harsher words. In an open letter to Gibbons, he charged that the U.S. Congress was "about to administer another crushing blow to the Thai economy" and trample developing countries "so that Americans may fatten while others starve." Thanat said U.S. trade imbalances "are the results of overvalued dollars, high interest rates and enormous budget deficits."
Anthony conceded that by hitting countries with emerging textile industries, such as Thailand, more heavily than Asia's "big five" exporters -- Taiwan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Japan -- legislation like the Jenkins bill was "not always rational."
He said that if a vote were held now, he would support the Jenkins bill. But he said his attitude had changed and might continue to evolve "up to a point it won't get me defeated in 1986."