A billl that would clear the way for U.S. negotiators in Geneva to wrap up negotiations on a broad new multinational trade agreement easily passed the House by voice vote yesterday.
The bill gives the Treasury Department authority to waive countervailing duties on some imported goods that are subsidized by foreign governments. It now goes to the Senate, where it also should pass easily. The authority expired at the start of this year. European governments with an interest in goods covered by the bill are holding up conclusion of the trade agreement until the bill is passed.
The legislation had been stalled in the Ways and Means Committee until the administration worked out an greement with the American Textile Industry.
The textile industry feared a new trade pact would subject the already beleaguered manufacturers to even stiffer competition from subsidized imports. Last year, the industry and unions succeeded in getting an amendment to a minor bill passed preventing Americans from negotiating tariff cuts on textiles in Geneva. President Carter vetoed that bill, but the industry threatened to attach similar language to the countervailing duties bill.
Details of the agreement were not made public, but it is believed it includes some review of agreements on textile imports, some restraints on imports from the People's Republic of China, and a promise by the administration to promote competitiveness for U.S. textile exports.
U.S. special trade negotiator Robert Strauss assured the committee that both the industry and the unions were mollified.
The controversy over countervailing duties arose because the 1974 Trade Act, in laying the groundwork for the current trade talks, empowered the Treasury Department to make selective waivers of countervailing duties, but only until Jan. 3 of this year.
Only about a dozen waivers amounting to about $47 million in duties on some $600-million worht of subsidized imports, are contained in yesterday's bill.