The White House claimed today that its new trade agreement with South Africa permitting a 4% annual increase in textile imports is actually an attempt to protect American textile producers from even greater growth in the white-ruled country's textile sales to U.S. markets.
On Capitol Hill, however, both Republicans and Democrats opposed the tentative agreement, coming amid growing pressure for U.S. sanctions against the Pretoria government.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that the Administration's little-noticed action, coming at a time when sanctions legislation is under consideration, is "hard to believe."
"It is not a good agreement in my judgment," Lugar said.
He was reminded that the trade negotiators have defended their action by saying they were not considering the political aspects of the situation.
"They probably should have," Lugar replied.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said that, "in one step, the Reagan Administration has demonstrated a strange disregard for American jobs and American values. . . ."
"The President has had the opportunity to overrule this textile deal with South Africa since June 27, when his negotiators agreed to the deal. Now that the deal has gone public, the White House has sought to dodge the issue by saying that it is 'tentative.' "
White House spokesman Larry Speakes announced the tentative agreement today after accounts of it leaked to the press late Monday.
Speakes insisted that the five-year pact is designed to protect U.S. producers, who have been hit hard by imports in recent years.
"On balance, this agreement will help American producers," Speakes said, citing figures showing imports of South African textiles rose 139% last year.
But the president of the AFL-CIO, Lane Kirkland, said, "It's rather incredible that an arm of this Administration should be negotiating--apparently secretly--trade concessions that reward a regime" whose policies the United States is seeking to change.