WASHINGTON — There are still a few textile mills in the Carolina piedmont, making futuristic fabrics that cover soldiers’ helmets and the roofs of commercial buildings.
There is also a new threat on the horizon. A proposed free trade agreement with South Korea, which the House and Senate are scheduled to consider this week, would open the American market to a manufacturing powerhouse that has its own high-technology textile industry.
The South Korea deal, and companion pacts with Colombia and Panama, are sailing toward approval. Both political parties are eager to show they are doing something to revive the ailing economy, and there is a broad consensus among the Obama administration, Republican leaders in Congress and many moderate Democrats that the deals will reduce costs for American consumers and increase foreign purchases of American goods and services.
That has left opponents of trade deals, like the textile industry, struggling to be heard. They say past trade agreements, which remove tariffs and other protections for domestic manufacturers, have eroded the nation’s industrial strength. The new round of deals will repeat that pattern, they say, allowing South Korean companies to flood the domestic market without creating significant export opportunities for American manufacturers.
“We are very much in favor of global trade, but we’re just not about having agreements that are unfair to the U.S. textile industry,” said Allen E. Gant Jr., chief executive of Glen Raven, a family-owned company that employs 1,500 people in the United States. “The U.S. needs every single job that we can get.” More.