The United States, walking a delicate line between textile interests at home and the need for military help abroad, has offered Turkey a package of limited textile trade concessions as a reward for letting U.S. troops use the country as a jumping-off point for an attack on Iraq, sources said yesterday.
The proposals would temporarily waive long-standing "Buy American" provisions to enable the Pentagon to purchase Turkish-made apparel for U.S. troops. Turkey would be allowed to increase its duty-free exports of clothing above the present quota, but only for goods made with American yarn and fabric.
Officials of the U.S. textile industry, reeling from the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the past decade, sharply criticized the proposal for a one-year waiver of the Buy American provision, a staple of Pentagon contracting for decades. "We're very concerned about that because it's a precedent and the camel's nose under the tent," said Jock Nash, Washington counsel for Milliken and Co., the nation's largest textile manufacturer.
Nash and others questioned whether Turkey would be satisfied with other parts of the offer because of the requirement that high-cost U.S. textile materials be used to make additional clothing exported to the United States. Erik O. Autor, international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation, predicted retailers would not buy such clothing because of its cost.
Greater access to the U.S. textile market has long been a top priority for Turkey, which sells nearly $1 billion worth of clothes and textiles in this country each year. A senior Turkish official said here this week that improving the terms of his country's textile trade with the United States was high on Turkey's wish list in negotiations over the stationing of U.S. troops.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Turkey won textile quota relief valued at around $100 million. With its economy recovering from one of the deepest recessions in decades and public opinion overwhelmingly opposed to a war with Iraq, Turkey is attempting to negotiate concessions that would make the stationing of U.S. troops on its soil more palatable to its people and parliament.
Morton L. Abramowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, said, "They're deeply afraid of the shock [of war] on their recovery, and they feel they need significant help to offset those shocks. The U.S. has always recognized this."
At the same time, the Bush administration risks a domestic political backlash if it grants too many trade concessions to major textile countries such as Turkey and Pakistan -- even though both are vital to the campaign against Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network. Pakistan sought, but did not receive, major concessions for its textile exports to the United States after pledging to support the U.S. effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Officials yesterday expressed concern that other countries such as Mexico and Chile, both members of the U.N. Security Council, would also seek trade or immigration concessions from the United States as a Security Council vote on a new Iraq resolution nears.
To some extent, the administration's hands are tied by a written guarantee of protection for the textile industry that it provided to wavering Republicans in 2001 to win a critical vote on trade legislation. The textile industry is centered in such GOP strongholds as rural North and South Carolina. That legislation, which gave broad authority to the president to negotiate trade agreements, passed the House by a single vote.
A spokesman for Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who supported the legislation despite representing a major textile district, said yesterday that it did not appear that proposals put forward to Turkey break any promise from the administration. He said DeMint was pleased that the administration had required the use of U.S. fabric and yarn in increased duty-free imports from Turkey.
"This could help our industry," the spokesman said. But he added that DeMint was concerned about even the temporary lifting of the Buy American provisions for Turkey.
Officials in Congress and the administration said key aspects of a trade deal with Turkey would have to be approved by the House and Senate. The president does have authority to adjust quotas on his own, but not import duties, officials said.