EX-CONGRESSMAN NAMED CHIEF TEXTILE NEGOTIATOR \ GEORGIA'S DON JOHNSON VOWS "OPEN-DOOR' POLICY

EX-CONGRESSMAN NAMED CHIEF TEXTILE NEGOTIATOR \ GEORGIA'S DON JOHNSON VOWS "OPEN-DOOR' POLICY

Don Johnson, a former U.S. representative from Georgia, has assumed the nation's chief textile negotiating post at the U.S. Trade Representative's Office.

At the end of his first day on the job Monday, Mr. Johnson said he plans to support the integrity of the administration's current textile program while keeping an open-door policy for all industry players.''I'm delighted to be in this administration and I've been a supporter of the administration's economic policies . . . that open markets make for more opportunities,'' said Mr. Johnson in a telephone interview from his Washington office.

''And I've always been a supporter of GATT and Nafta,'' he said, referring to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

HEAD OF TRADE FIRM

To assume his new job, the 50-year-old attorney will be leaving Georgia, where he lived on a farm in Hart County with his wife, Suzanne, and ran an international trade and investment consulting company, Global Markets Inc. in Athens.

No novice to the world of Washington politics, Mr. Johnson served in the U.S. Congress in 1992, where he was a member of the Textile Caucus, and served for three terms in the Georgia Senate.

The soft-spoken Georgian will need to wield those political skills in his new post as he negotiates the demands of importers and retailers - who want as little government interference as possible in the trading process - and the domestic textile industry, which has clamored for decades for protection from low-cost imports.

In addition, Mr. Johnson will need to soothe the egos of anxious diplomats from developing nations who seek greater access to U.S. buyers for everything from cotton boxer shorts to silk blouses to terry towels.

''I've had experience (in Congress) in dealing with various constituencies and that will help me in dealing with these constituencies,'' Mr. Johnson said. ''I'll have an open door to both sides and will listen to both sides. We can make accommodations, but there are no simple solution.''

GATT SUPPORTER

Mr. Johnson said he supported a longer time frame for the phaseout of quotas under the global Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, but did vote for GATT and supports the administration's policy.

''It's hard to say what the atmosphere will be in 2004, but I expect the agreement will be carried out,'' he added.

The global pact on textiles, negotiated as part of the GATT, calls for the phaseout of all quotas on textile and apparel by the end of 2004. Some industry sources expect that the U.S. domestic industry will ask Congress to extend the deadline.

Stressing that it was his first day on the job, Mr. Johnson said he expected that negotiating pacts with emerging textile producers in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, will be a priority.

Julie Hughes, vice president of international trade and government relations for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said that importers are looking forward to working with Mr. Johnson.

''We've heard that he's easy to work with and open to listening to all viewpoints,'' said Ms. Hughes. ''Sometimes in the past there's been an ''us vs. them'' battle. We hope to work with the chief textile negotiator and produce a win-win situation for importers and retailers and the domestic industry.''

Ms. Hughes views his Congressional experience as a plus.

''In general, it will be positive to work with someone who understands the political process and can deal with the issues that affect all segments of the industry,'' she added.

While the association still maintains that the 1995 global agreement on clothing makes the post superfluous, the group is not opposed to the appointment of Mr. Johnson.

''If it wasn't filled, it would be no great loss,'' she said. ''But if the administration makes the decision to fill it, then it's a good choice.''

A USTR spokesman anticipates that the White House will nominate Mr. Johnson to ambassador status, which the chief textile slot has traditionally held. The nomination of ambassador must be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The chief textile negotiating slot has been vacant since mid-November, when Rita Hayes officially became deputy U.S. trade representative in Geneva.

But Ms. Hayes began spending more and more time in Europe since the late summer, after the White House announced its plan to nominate her to the Geneva post.

Many critics of the U.S. textile program said the Clinton administration's slow pace in replacing Ms. Hayes only bolstered their longstanding position that the job is unnecessary.

SOMEBODY HAS TO DO IT

Mr. Johnson said somebody has to do the job and handle the critical issues that keep coming up. In addition to negotiating bilateral pacts, the chief textile negotiator handles any textile disputes brought by other countries to the Textile Monitoring Body, an arm of the WTO that oversees the global Agreement on Textiles and Clothing.

Since leaving Washington in 1995, Mr. Johnson has run Global Markets Inc., which focused on emerging markets in South Asia and Eastern Europe. He has also acted as corporate counsel to a group of companies engaged in the metal fabrication, recreation product manufacturing and international trade businesses.

Mr. Johnson also taught part-time at the University of Georgia in Athens, and was an adviser to the Dean Rusk Center for International and Comparative Law, part of the university, and the European Center in Atlanta.