The U.S.-China Comprehensive Textile Trade Agreement reached last Tuesday represents an important measure of breathing room for nervous domestic manufacturers over the next three years. The flood of China's exports of clothing and textiles to the United States, which jumped 46 percent in the first eight months of 2005, will continue to rise, but with restrictions set to begin in January. The time has passed, however, to save nearly 400,000 textile jobs lost since 2001, or 38.1 percent of America's textile workforce.
Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC8) quickly joined industry advocates in celebration of the U.S.-China trade deal so important to the North Carolina textile industry, reminding reporters at a Tuesday news conference in Washington that he had led the charge for a U.S.-Sino deal on textiles. Mindful of his controversial reversal of the deciding vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), to which he had promised constituents he was "flat-out, completely, horizontally opposed," the U.S.-China trade restrictions provide some cover as the developing rationale for the last minute deal with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the White House.
Auggie Tantillo, Executive Director of American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition which opposed CAFTA, joined the news conference in support of the China trade deal but said he believes there would have been an agreement with China even without Hayes' last minute vote switch in support of CAFTA.
Congressional candidate Larry Kissell, a Democrat from Montgomery Country seeking to challenge Hayes in 2006, said he shares the frustration of industry advocates like Tantillo, stating the CAFTA vote remains inexcusable. Commenting on Hayes' asserted deal to open free trade with six countries presumably in order to limit trade with one, Kissell said "CAFTA says Central America, not China. China has already flooded us. Why open more doors while trying to barely shut the China one. Bottom line, that horse is long gone from the barn along with many of the jobs. CAFTA just opened the doors so what few horses are left can get out."
CAFTA, an extension of NAFTA which opened free trade for Canada, Mexico and the U.S., is an agreement between the United States, the Dominican Republic and five Central American countries including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. An even larger agreement called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is currently being negotiated by 34 countries.
The Economic Policy Institute estimated in a July briefing that the 538 percent growth in the U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA countries from 1993 too 2004 accounted for a net loss of more than 1 million U.S. jobs, including 34,150 net jobs in North Carolina. CAFTA is already projected to increase the U.S. trade deficit, which hit a record of $617.7 billion in 2004, by $100 million with Central America alone according to a 2004 report by the U.S. International Trade Commission. Regardless of managed growth between the U.S. and China, the trend of net job losses under NAFTA will likely be repeated under CAFTA as the U.S. trade deficit continues to grow.