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Why Trade Pact Goes Down Uneasily in Easley, S.C.

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AS sewing machines whir and needles bob up and down along brightly colored floral cloth, Joanne Cater explains what she thinks of the new global trade pact approved by Congress.

``I'm scared of it,'' says the supervisor of Foothills Manufacturing Company, a small firm here that makes women's dresses. ``I'm afraid it will take our jobs - and I can't go to Mexico, Europe, or elsewhere to work.''

Ms. Cater's boss, however, is more optimistic. ``I feel in the long run that GATT [the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] will benefit this country'' because it will encourage competition and slash prices on goods, says Richard Blackwood, the firm's owner.

Such mixed reactions are common in Easley, S.C., a town of red-brick storefronts and gas lamps, where 35 percent of the 15,000 people work in the textile and apparel industries.

The needle trades are expected to be among the most heavily impacted by the sweeping new trade pact. Thus, it is not surprising to find strong views - even within the same company - over what it will mean to this town in the heart of the nation's textile belt.

There are, of course, plenty of people along Main Street who don't give a stitch about GATT. ``I haven't heard one comment about it,'' says a woman who only identifies herself as Mary, as she pauses in front of the Christmas lights at Bill's Taxidermy.

A few storefronts down, Alfred Robinson, owner of Robinson's Apparel, an upscale store for men and women, thinks GATT will be beneficial - as long as the negotiations were done in the best interests of American citizens, which he has his doubts about.

``We've always been suckers in dealing with other countries,'' Mr. Robinson says. ``I think people in America don't trust how the government negotiates.''

GATT slashes tariffs by an average of 38 percent on thousands of goods worldwide, though the reductions on textiles and apparel will be less dramatic. This is one reason some in the industry have supported the treaty. The pact also, however, phases out over a 10-year period the quotas erected by the US and other industrialized countries to limit imports from developing countries.

As quotas disappear, other countries will be able to flood the US market with textile and apparel goods. Some analysts say these sectors will be hit hard because they won't be able to compete with cheaper labor overseas.

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