The decision by President George W Bush this week to ask Congress to renew his fast-track trade promotion authority (TPA) has garnered strong support from some US textile and apparel trade groups, while others say it will simply send the entire industry offshore.

TPA, which is set to expire on 1 July 2007, requires lawmakers to vote "yes" or "no" within 90 days on trade agreements negotiated by the US government without making changes.

Kevin M Burke, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), believes this authority "is extremely important to expedite free trade agreements and allow negotiators to operate effectively."

He adds that the two-way consultation process during the negotiations leading up to the trade agreement is critical - and that "providing this fast-track authority for trade agreements will greatly assist the US in negotiating multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements that open new markets for US companies.

However, Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC), believes that under TPA, Congress restricts itself to a superficial review of trade agreements instead of engaging in close scrutiny.

"TPA is Congress's way of passing the buck to avoid accountability. By stifling meaningful debate and all amendments, TPA perverts the legislative process by effectively preventing negatively affected industries and interests from airing their concerns in Congress," Tantillo says. 

TPA is key if the US government is to successfully complete the Doha round of world trade talks, which have been stalled, as well as trade deals with South Korea and Malaysia.

However, there are also concerns that if a TPA deal is reached with the President it will be linked to tougher measures against China, reinforcement of US laws against unfair trade and other steps to aid ailing US manufacturers and their employees.