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Easley Asks Bush To Withdraw Textile Agreement With Vietnam

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley last week sent a letter to President George W. Bush, urging him to protect North Carolina's textile industry in international trade negotiations.

Easley requested that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative withdraw its current agreement with Vietnam, reinstate import protections based on previous negotiations and conduct a comprehensive review of all quota categories to determine legitimate levels of Vietnamese trade.

"North Carolina has always prided itself on having one of the best business climates in the nation, and we are doing all we can to keep it that way in the face of a sharp economic downturn," Easley said. "One of the most significant struggles that we face, however, is the economic disruption that can be traced directly to recent international trade agreements. These agreements eliminate import protections on textile goods without ensuring that our domestic industry is playing on a level field with our trading partners."

The Bush administration announced a bilateral agreement on textiles executed with Vietnam earlier this month. On April 25, 2003 -- earlier in the same week that the president declared the nation needs "a bold economic recovery package so people can find work" -- the USTR signed an agreement that grants Vietnam new, extraordinary access to the U.S. textile market. This agreement directly puts thousands of additional North Carolina jobs on the firing line.

Since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994, employment levels for the apparel industry in the southeast have dropped by more than 60 percent -- or 100,000 jobs. During that same period, North Carolina also lost 145,000 jobs in textile mills -- more than 35 percent of the workforce in that industry.

In 2002, North Carolina's textile industry alone lost more than 6,000 jobs to plant closings and permanent layoffs. Each plant closing or mass layoff has caused untold suffering for workers, their families and the communities that have long hosted textile and apparel plants.

"North Carolina is transitioning our economy as fast as any state," Easley said. "But we cannot transition an entire industry overnight in the middle of a recession. Our foreign trade policy must reflect this reality."

In the letter, Easley also urged the administration to keep its commitment to the long-term viability of domestic textile industry as the USTR considers moving forward on the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement negotiations over the next few months.

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