One of the first items awaiting the Senate when Congress gathers again Sept. 7 will be a trade bill establishing more quotas on imports of foreign textiles and clothing. Such legislation would be a serious mistake, especially since the American textile industry doesn't need it.
Unfortunately, the measure already has passed the House and awaits only action in the Senate, where a majority reportedly favors the bill. And in an election year, members of Congress are unusually sensitive to pressures brought to bear by lobbyists.All the arguments against protectionism and for free trade apply in this case. It will mean higher prices for U.S. consumers, provoke retaliation against U.S. exports, violate international agreements, and make it tougher to create an open trading system - a major U.S. policy goal.
The bill would put any administration in the embarrassing position of trying to open foreign markets a little wider, while closing some doors to the U.S. market at the same time. America can't have it both ways.
Such protectionism might make a little sense if the U.S. textile industry were dying. But it is healthy and robust. The industry posted record profits of $1.9 billion last year, up 54 percent from two years ago.
Certainly, there have been some job losses, but those losses have come mostly from efforts to streamline operations and improve productivity - not from big losses in the share of the textile market.
Not only that, but the textile industry already is one of the most protected sectors of the U.S. economy, with import restrictions on more than 1,000 textile products from 42 nations. Why build the walls even higher?
Finally, textile and clothing imports already are down by 9 percent so far this year.
It makes no sense to even have a textile protection bill in Congress. The Senate should drop the whole matter. It has more important things to do in the final 30 days of this year's session.