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The 1990/91 legislative and regulatory agenda.

The 1990/91 Legislative And Regulatory Agenda

a lot happened in the past 12 months and 1991 promises increased governmental activity that will affect the nonwovens industry domestically and worldwide A number of legislative and regulatory successes affecting the nonwovens industry were recorded in 1990 and similar victories are hoped for in 1991. This past year, INDA has helped shape a number of laws and regulations that will impact the nonwovens industry for years to come. While a number of measures on INDA's issue list were finalized in 1990, action will not be completed on other items until 1991 or later (this is particularly true with international trade issues, which could be subject to negotiation for several years).

This article will summarize the legislative and regulatory action that took place in 1990 on a number of issues of importance to the nonwovens industry and will also look ahead to some of the issues INDA expects to address in 1991. This list is not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of all that INDA did in the previous year and all we hope to accomplish in the current one; instead it is an overview of the more important items.

Legislative And Regulatory Issues

One big 1990 success resulted from a joint effort by INDA and several of its members to preserve the 5.6% duty on disposable surgical drapes and gowns imported by INDA member companies.

The 5.6% duty had been threatened by two developments. The first was the Customs Service determination that would significantly increase duties on drapes and gowns made of "Sontara," a DuPont product, and the second was the pending expiration of temporary legislation affecting the duty rate for drapes and gowns made from Kimberly-Clark's "Evolution."

To preserve the 5.6% duty, INDA encouraged the Customs Service to reverse its decision on Sontara, while simultaneously drafting a legislative proposal that would continue the 5.6% duty on products made from Evolution (but broaden the measure to also apply to products made of Sontara).

INDA's efforts were successful on both fronts. Legislation was passed that will preserve the 5.6% duty on all disposable drapes and gowns, whether they are made from Sontara or Evolution, and the Customs Service issued a new determination on Sontara that preserves the 5.6% duty on those products as well. This issue has not been completely resolved, however, and, as detailed later in this article, INDA will continue its efforts on this matter through 1992 at least.

Harmonized, GATT, U.S./Canada

On other international trade issues, INDA continued its efforts to implement additional "break out" categories for nonwoven fabrics in the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule. Previously, INDA has been successful in petitioning the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to develop breakouts for seven technological processes (thermal bonded, hydroentangled, spunbonded, melt blown, chemically bonded, air laid and stitch bonded) that are now being identified as roll goods in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule under a single heading.

During 1990 INDA representatives met with ITC officials several times to encourage separate break outs that identify nonwovens by the specific manufacturing technique. That is, instead of one category for all processes, INDA would like to have individual categories for each of the major techniques. These efforts will continue into 1991.

Also in regard to international trade matters, INDA submitted a policy statement on behalf of the nonwovens industry to the U.S. negotiators involved in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations. In its statement, INDA called for the lowering of excessively high tariffs placed on nonwovens by certain countries and requested that these high tariffs be reduced to levels that are more in line with those charged by the U.S. and the European Community. At press time, the GATT negotiations were scheduled to be closing, but final word on their outcome will not be available until sometime later this winter.

In another international issue, INDA polled its members in the latter part of 1990 to develop an industry position on accelerated elimination of tariffs on items traded between the U.S. and Canada. Tariff eliminations are virtually inevitable under the terms of the U.S./Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed by the two countries in 1989 but, without accelerated elimination, might not take affect until the later part of this decade. Consensus on the issue could not be reached among INDA members, however, and members were advised to submit comments individually to the government negotiators who will be handling the matter.

On The Domestic Front

Outside of the international trade arena, another success for INDA resulted from our opposition to federal legislation that would have significantly limited a manufacturer's ability to dismiss certain distributors.

This legislation, which was blocked in the final days of the 101st Congress, could have exposed manufacturers to unnecessary and costly litigation. To help prevent the bill's passage, INDA president John Mead sent a letter opposing the measure to each of the 100 U.S. senators and INDA members were encouraged to send letters individually as well. These efforts have been credited as a contributing factor to the bill's eventual defeat.

Another important issue that surfaced in 1990 had to do with a proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to exempt 11 specified surgical devices from pre-market notification procedures, a step that would make it much easier to market new products made by INDA member companies. Included in the list of exempted devices were gauze and surgical sponges for external use (items commonly manufactured from nonwoven fabrics). INDA supports this proposal and has been working with FDA personnel to establish better definitions for the items listed. The issue is not likely to be resolved, however, until some time later this year.

Dioxin has been a major issue for the nonwovens industry and in 1990 INDA circulated a report prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA's report capped a two-year review into the possible carcinogenic effects of dioxin in consumer products and, based on its review, the EPA determined that the risks to consumers using products containing bleached wood pulp is negligible. The EPA recommended that no regulatory action be taken regarding these products.

The 1991 Watch List Of Issues

In 1991, INDA anticipates more action on a number of issues that were addressed last year. For instance, INDA expects final action on a GATT accord (but is uncertain at this time whether that action will be positive or negative) and more action on the issue of the U.S./Mexico Free Trade Agreement.

In addition, the U.S./Canada accelerated tariff reductions are scheduled to take affect this July and, while INDA could not develop a consensus among its members on the issue, a number of INDA members submitted comments individually. At press time it was too early to tell whether (and if so, to what extent) accelerated tariff eliminations would be adopted for nonwovens.

On other international trade issues, as noted earlier, INDA will continue its legislative efforts to preserve the duty on disposable surgical drapes and gowns made from synthetic fibers (the current legislation is temporary and expires Dec. 31, 1992). INDA will also provide its members with information regarding the U.S./Mexico Free Trade Agreement negotiations likely to develop this year and the GATT negotiations that will, hopefully, be finalized in 1991.

On other fronts, INDA anticipates a final rule to be issued this May implementing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposal that could require employers to provide workers with apparel to protect them from such diseases as AIDS and Hepatitis B resulting from exposure to bloodborne pathogens. INDA, working with a task force of representatives from companies affected by the proposal, developed a formal position statement on this issue and presented it to OSHA in late 1989.

OSHA personnel spent most of 1990 reviewing thousands of public comments received in response to the proposal and it is impossible to accurately predict what the final rule will require in regard to personal protective equipment. INDA has been in regular contact with OSHA on this issue and in mid-1990 reminded them of the nonwovens industry's concerns about the proposal.

INDA also anticipates adoption of a final rule in 1991 requiring personal protective equipment be used by any agricultural workers who handle certain pesticides. The proposal, which is being developed the EPA, could affect 2.5 million farm workers. The proposal could be a boon to the nonwovens industry since disposable protective garments would probably be more attractive to farmers complying with the regulation (reusable garments would require decontamination after exposure to pesticides).

On other issues, INDA anticipates a Congressional battle over reauthorization of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a major piece of legislation covering federal standards for the disposal of solid waste. Antitrust legislation detailed earlier in this article is also likely to be reintroduced this year and INDA is prepared to oppose the measure again if it is reoffered.

On a final issue, at the request of its Government Relations Advisory Board (GRAB), INDA intends to improve its ability to monitor state legislative activity in 1991 by subscribing to a legislative data base. INDA anticipates an increase in state activity on issues such as solid waste disposal, flammability standards and "green advertising" practices. With improved access to legislation and regulation being considered at the state level, INDA and its member companies will enhance their ability torespond to these measure regardless of the state in which they are introduced.

An INDA group that has just been formed to help address legislative iisues at the state, national and international level is the INDA Communications-Action Network (ICAN). ICAN is intended to be an early warning system for INDA members who are affected by government action.

Peter Mayberry is the director of government affairs for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. He works out of the Washington, DC offices of Keller & Heckman, INDA's legal counsel. This Capital Comments column appears monthly in Nonwovens Industry.
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Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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