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US-Bangladesh Towel Trade: Who's Unfair?

In the opinion-page column ``Bangladesh's Really Terrible Unfair Trade Practices,'' May 20, the author derides Milliken & Co. for having filed a petition with the United States International Trade Commission. In the petition we asserted that the Bangladeshi shop-towel industry received export subsidies from their government which materially injured the US shop-towel market. Milliken & Co. does not apologize for availing itself of US trade law to protect the company and its 14,000 associates (employees) from unfair trade practices. It would be little consolation to a Milliken associate who lost his job if his company were to practice the ludicrous forbearance advocated by the author. That a country is poor or in crisis is no defense for trade-law violations.

Our company is but one of 600 in an industry that has spent nearly $20 billion on new plants and equipment over the last decade, making it the most productive textile industry in the world, according to the Department of Labor.

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Yet the textile-fiber-apparel manufacturing complex has lost 500,000 jobs on the altar of free trade during this 10-year period. As our government unilaterally pursues it utopian free-trade theories, our trading partners are practicing adversarial trade and industrial targeting. As a consequence, this nation's textile and apparel trade deficit is $26 billion annually.

Our trade laws apply to all of our trading partners. The selective enforcement of those laws is too often followed by this government and its agencies charged with the responsibility for their effective application. It is time our government realized that this country is long past the point where we can continue to trade away American jobs for dubious foreign policy goals or to enrich people and nations less well off than we.

John F. Nash Jr., Washington, Washington counsel, Milliken & Co.

Yes, Americans should be concerned about the plight of the poor of Bangladesh. The author claims to do so. What he ignores is that the ruthless trade practices of the United States, Japan, Germany, and other industrial powers contribute to Bangladesh's abysmal poverty. Visit Bangladesh's garment and textile factories, as we have, and you can see why. There you find haggard men, women, and children - yes, children as young as seven or eight - working under subhuman conditions to supply our markets. For the children at least, it is a modern form of slavery.

A sick myth of our times is that trade automatically improves the lot of people. Nonsense. It can, under certain conditions, of course, but in the third world today it operates in an industrial jungle without respect for the basic moral rules of humanity. Bangladesh is a case in point where the export of textiles and garments is making a few people rich but keeping a poor country poor.

It is tragic that American opinionmakers, transfixed by the mechanistic doctrines of another age, support the amoral practices that prevail in the world's trading system.

Charles D. Gray, Washington, Asian-American Free Labor Institute

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Defining ``peasants'' Regarding the article ``Peasants Protest US Role in Bolivia's Drug War,'' May 17: The ``peasants,'' it turns out, are coca farmers who want to continue being coca farmers. I object to the use of the term ``peasant'' to describe poor farmers in a foreign country. This term has a diminishing connotation. These folks are farmers worried about their cash crops.

We have plenty of poor farmers in the US, but I don't think your paper or any other would call Americans ``peasants.''

Susannah Lyle, Tallahassee, Fla.

Enhancing hemispheric security Regarding the opinion-page column ``Collective Security in Latin America,'' May 20: Changes which have taken place in Latin America, such as those in political leadership, indicate that a new collective-security framework is badly needed.

Such an arrangement would indeed complement US strategic interests, as the author indicates. And perhaps the US will finally be able to shed its imperialistic image in Latin America. Collective security would prove to be a stabilizing force in the Western Hemisphere. In order for such an agreement to succeed, the role of the armed forces must be redefined.

However, the author neglects to mention one very important factor. Conflicts among political factions in individual Latin American countries must be addressed so that each country might contribute more positively to the unit as a whole.

Betsy Teles, Windsor, Conn.

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