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INDA's 1999 Government Relations Wrap-Up.

End use products dominate agenda.

As 1999 draws to a close, INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, Cary, NC, can look back on a year in which governmental actions in both the legislative and regulatory arenas centered more on end use products than on roll goods. While roll goods continued to take center stage in regard to international trade issues, it was wipers, filters, tampons, diapers and other finished goods that were on the agenda for INDA's Washington, D.C. operations during most of the year. Once again, as has been the case for the past five years or so, most of the action was in the regulatory agencies instead of the U.S. Congress.

In terms of domestic affairs, INDA worked proactively with officials from various government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA] on issues that impact manufacturers of industrial wipers, feminine hygiene products and medical devices. We also filed comments with several government agencies on issues of interest to the nonwovens industry, and continued to work with other trade associations in related industries.

There were also several trips to Capitol Hill this year for INDA's Washington, D.C. staff as we worked with a number of Congressional offices on industry issues. In addition, INDA continued its efforts to ensure that domestic transportation rates for products made from nonwoven roll goods remain as low as possible.

INDA's international trade agenda was also extraordinarily busy this year. This is largely due to the fact that a major round of international trade negotiations was scheduled to begin in late-November in Seattle, Washington and could ultimately produce numerous worldwide benefits for nonwovens producers based in the United States.

The year also saw closer relations between INDA and the governmental agencies responsible for international trade policies. INDA staff, for instance, was invited to participate in the Industry Sector Advisory Board for Textiles and Apparel (ISAC 15) and has been working with senior officials from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in preparation for the upcoming Seattle negotiations.

All in all, it was a very full year and, on average, a very successful year as well. While INDA was disappointed with some results on the domestic front, we saw some extremely positive steps taken this year as well.

1999 In Review: Domestic Issues

One thing that is important for readers to realize is the difference between legislation and regulations. While legislation and regulations both have the force of law, the basic difference is that legislation is enacted by the U.S. Congress while regulations are promulgated by Executive Branch agencies such as EPA and FDA. Regulations are also often drafted by government agencies to implement legislation passed by Congress. Indeed. Congress typically passes legislation that offers broad policy outlines, and then leaves it to the Executive Branch agencies to fill in the blanks through detailed implementing regulations. It can be a frustrating relationship that, sometimes, leads to intervention by the Federal courts.

This was the case in 1999 when the U.S. Court of Appeals stepped in to overturn EPA regulations first adopted in 1997 regarding air pollutants that produce soot and smog. Claiming authority under the decades-old Clean Air Act (a bill originally passed into law during the 1970's and amended several times by Congress in the 1980's and 1990's), EPA issued rules in 1997 requiring, among other things, that particulate matter which is 2.5 microns or larger be captured before it can be released by incinerators, production plants, or other combustion sources.

This was a significant change from previous EPA standards that required capture of particulate matter that was 10 microns or larger, and was immediately challenged in Federal court. The issue is significant for the nonwovens industry because fabric filtration is the only currently-available technology capable of capturing such tiny particulates.

In a somewhat unprecedented move, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled this past May that EPA had overstepped its constitutional authority by issuing the new standards, and the decision was upheld by the full Court of Appeals in late October. EPA has vowed to continue its appeal on the matter, however, and to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

In other EPA action this year, the agency s Office of Water concluded more than three years of effort by determining that pretreatment standards should not be required for industrial laundries that process soiled industrial wipers. Instead, the Agency referred the matter to its Office of Solid Waste (OSW) with a recommendation that OSW issue regulations that require hazardous wastes to be removed from the wipers prior to laundering. This dovetails nicely with OSW efforts over the past five years to develop regulations that would level the regulatory playing field that is currently tilted in favor of laundered shop towels over nonwoven wipers. Proposed regulations from OSW are now expected by this spring.

Tampons were also a major focus of interest for INDA this year. INDA staff worked with officials from FDA to help counter erroneous information about tampons that is being spread on the Internet and also flied comments on behalf of tampon manufacturers in response to an FDA proposed rule that would allow the U.S. sale of tampons that absorb 15-19 grams of fluid. Final action on this issue is expected next year as well.

In other domestic matters, INDA continued work on medical waste issues, as well as new ergonomics standards from OSHA and guidelines for Federal procurement of "environmentally friendly" products. INDA also reported on legislation and regulations intended to minimize the potential impact of the Y2K bug. Lastly, INDA worked with the National Classification Committee (NCC) to oppose proposed changes in domestic tariffs for disposable diapers and wipers that are transported on the nation's highways by contract trucking firms.

International Issues

As noted, perhaps the biggest international trade story of the year has to do with preparations for the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations slated to begin in Seattle on November 30, 1999. These talks are expected to mark the beginning of a "millennium round" of negotiations among the 134 WTO member countries and are intended to lower tariffs and facilitate trade throughout the world.

In preparation for this new round of international trade negotiations (which will take at least three years to complete), INDA coordinated several meetings with USTR officials and also drafted a detailed list of Harmonized Tariff Schedule codes for products manufactured from nonwoven roll goods. INDA's basic request is that U.S. negotiators seek tariff eliminations on nonwoven roll goods from as many WTO member countries as possible, and also seek input from the nonwovens industry on any negotiations involving end use products made from nonwovens.

INDA also compiled export! import statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce this year that showed that 1998 was a good year for U.S. exports of nonwoven roll goods considering the economic difficulties that raged through Asia and Latin America that year.

Lastly, INDA reported on an agreement reached between the U.S. and China late in the year to improve trade between the two countries, as well as legislation approved by both chambers of Congress intended to improve U.S. trade with countries located in sub-Saharan Africa.

Looking Ahead

INDA anticipates an extremely busy year in 2000. Majority leadership in both chambers of Congress will be up for grabs late next November and a new president will be elected. Relationships will have to be established with new officials, many of whom have never heard of nonwovens. There will also be ongoing issues to address in the legislative, regulatory and international trade arenas. Among the expected highlights for 2000 are the following: final FDA action on higher absorbency tampons; EPA's proposed rule on a hazardous waste exemption for soiled wipers; continued implementation of EPA's medical waste incinerator regulations and proposed furniture flammability standards from the U.S. Consumer Protection Agency.

In terms of international trade, INDA expects to get approval for participation on the ISAC panel next year and to begin work on the "millennium round" of WTO negotiations. INDA also plans to continue its support for Congressional renewal of presidential "fast track" negotiating authority and will closely follow the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement negotiations that will likely begin to heat up once the national elections are completed.

While it is a full agenda. INDA continually seeks input from members of the nonwovens industry on issues of importance. This is especially true for state-level issues where it is difficult to monitor legislative and regulatory developments of all 50 states. If you are aware of an issue that should be on INDA's radar screen, please do not hesitate to call our offices in suburban Washington, D.C. After all, the power of any trade association rests in the hands of its industry members and their willingness to work collectively on matters of common interest.

Peter Mayberry is the director of government affairs for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry.
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Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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