WASHINGTON, May 18 (JTA) — Pro-Israel groups in Washington have successfully stretched their lobbying efforts to protect the Israeli contribution to pantyhose.
As a result of last-minute lobbying by these groups, a provision designed specifically to protect imports of Israeli-made nylon yarn was added to a major U.S. trade bill with African and Caribbean countries that President Clinton signed Thursday.
Imports to the United States of Israeli yarn, used mainly in the manufacture of pantyhose, total approximately $50 million each year.
Without the provision, the new law, by extending trade benefits to sub-Saharan Africa and the states of the Caribbean Basin, would have superseded parts of the existing free trade agreement between the United States and Israel.
With the protection in place, an important precedent has been set: Future trade agreements between the United States and other countries will not harm Israel’s trade relations with Washington.
When the bill was drafted, it stated that if a garment is sewn in the United States with U.S.-made yarn and then sent to the Caribbean to be assembled, the final product would receive duty-free treatment once the product returned to America for distribution.
But written that way, the law protects only yarn made exclusively in America, thereby harming Israeli yarn producers, Jewish groups noticed.
“There doesn’t have to be a contradiction in the U.S. opening trade relations with new countries and the existing free trade relationship the U.S. has with Israel,” said Jeffrey Colman, deputy legislative director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith worked to ensure that Israel would not be hurt by the new bill.
The provision to the bill says any country that had a free trade agreement before 1995 would not be subject to the U.S.-only yarn restriction. Israel signed a free trade agreement with the United States in 1985.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who support the protection for Israeli manufacturers, encountered some resistance in the House before they eventually succeeded in pushing the provision.
The trade bill had been moving slowly through Congress for several years, and there had been concern that any additional amendments might harm passage of the bill.