Political turmoil could erupt if the United States does not offer Caribbean countries trade terms similar to those Mexico would enjoy under the proposed North American free-trade agreement, the director of the Port of Miami warned.

"The concern of the Caribbean nations is one they perceive as inequality if Nafta becomes a reality. I believe it's a legitimate concern," Carmen Lunetta said at a Caribbean Rim trade and transportation conference sponsored here last weekby the port and the Containerization and Intermodal Institute."If we fail to recognize that, we will see (sweeping the Caribbean Basin) what is happening in Haiti today," he said.

So far the fate of a pending congressional bill that would grant Nafta- like terms to Caribbean Basin countries - the so-called parity bill - is


Jose Aguirre, vice president of Miami International Forwarders Inc., said passage of Nafta without adoption of the parity bill would severely injure the growing apparel industry in both the Caribbean and South Florida.

Indeed, the "sucking sound" to which former presidential candidate Ross Perot often refers would be created by apparel jobs fleeing the Caribbean Basin, not the United States - except for such small pockets as the Miami garment industry which supports Caribbean apparel operations, he said.

Although existing apparel operations would not be significantly affected, most new investment probably would go to Mexico if Nafta passes and the parity bill fails, according to both Miami attorney Thomas G. Travis and William Ralph, vice president of The Journal of Commerce's Port Import Export Reporting Service.

In an interview, after his speech at the conference, Mr. Travis said he believes Nafta will pass if President Clinton and multinational companies flex their muscles and override the fears of small businesses and labor.

However, the fate of the parity bill hinges purely on political reality, Mr. Travis suggested.

Only if Mr. Clinton believes the legislation can somehow bring him political benefit will he push for it, Mr. Travis said.