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CAFTA Damage Report: After Tough Talk on CAFTA, Reps. Inglis and Barrett Sell Out South Carolina Manufacturers and Workers for Unenforceable “Textile Deal”Opening Door to More Chinese Imports

Public Citizen Launches CAFTA Damage Report to Track Outcome of Misguided CAFTA Votes

By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Turning their backs on the struggling textile and apparel industry and workers in South Carolina’s 3rd and 4th Districts, Reps. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and J. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) reversed their previous opposition to the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to become the deciding last votes in CAFTA’s 217-215 passage July 28, after receiving vague promises by Republican congressional leaders to help protect the U.S. textile and apparel industry from Chinese competition. Inglis has previously stated that he would oppose CAFTA unless it was amended to eliminate three provisions he identified as disastrous for South Carolina, while Barrett had made similar demands related to the agreement. Past demands of this type to amend signed trade agreements have resulted in changes before the Congressional vote, such as the removal from the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement of the so-called Integrated Sourcing Initiative, which was seen as a threat to U.S. manufacturing.

However, Inglis and Barrett flip-flopped and voted for CAFTA without obtaining amendments they had demanded, which would reverse new rules of origin on pocketing, and close major CAFTA loopholes created by a large tariff preference level for Nicaraguan goods and new CAFTA cumulation rules. Inglis said he decided to vote for CAFTA on the basis of a Bush administration promise that it would attempt to amend CAFTA after it took effect, while press accounts report that Barrett was also drawn to the Inglis promises.1 Post hoc amendments to change CAFTA require consensus of all CAFTA signatory countries, which is improbable given that such a change is against their economic interests and that the CAFTA countries’ only “commitment” to consider such changes comes from trade officials (not the presidents who signed the treaty), and comes in the form of unofficial letters and verbal commitments outside the legal scope of the treaty. Thus the United States has no recourse against other countries for their failure to follow up on these side commitments, which has been the pattern in past last minute trade deals. Inglis was aware of this and knew that even if the post hoc changes to CAFTA’s text were agreed to, the changes needed to avoid CAFTA ravages to South Carolina, which are not supported by many key members of Congress, could be implemented only by yet another congressional vote.