Failure of the U.S. House of Representatives this week to override President Reagan's veto of a bill to limit imports of textiles and shoes was a triumph for common sense.
The textile industry clearly has problems stemming from foreign imports - serious competition that extends back to 1980. But the industry already has 1,400 tariffs and has modernized many factories, a move that caused some layoffs itself. Earnings were up last year.Under the bill vetoed by the president, textile and clothing imports would be frozen at 1987 levels and any future increases would be limited to 1 percent a year. Imports of non-rubber footwear also would be frozen, but no future growth would be allowed.
The president correctly called the measure "protectionism at its worst." It might protect some domestic establishments, but it could easily bring about a wave of retaliation against American exports. Reagan vetoed a similar measure in 1985.
Some Asian countries - the biggest source of textile imports into the U.S. - have restrictive trade policies of their own, but they should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Across-the-board trade restrictions are not the answer. Such restrictions can lead to the demise of free markets everywhere, something that would be an economic disaster for the world.
However, the victory over short-sighted protectionism may only be temporary. The House voted 272-152 to override, but that was 11 votes short of the two-thirds needed. Sponsors have vowed to return with the same bill next year.
It should be resisted even more vigorously if it shows up next year.