U.S. textile industry seeks limit on Chinese imports

Surge in goods threatens producers, petition says

April 07, 2005|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON - The U.S. textile industry petitioned the Bush administration yesterday to impose limits on imports of knit shirts, brassieres, pants and other clothing from China, saying a surge in those imports endangers their industry.

The petition, which affects products that accounted for $1.45 billion in imports last year, follows by two days a decision by the U.S. Commerce Department to initiate investigations of three categories of Chinese apparel, including cotton trousers and underwear. The industry is using the cases to press China to voluntarily limit its exports to the U.S., a spokesman said.

"More petitions will be filed in the weeks ahead," said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. "We will keep filing petitions until the United States and China reach a comprehensive agreement to moderate the growth of Chinese imports."

The investigations could lead to limits on those imports. The U.S. industry is concerned that products from China will capture the entire $26 billion worth of imports in those categories, cutting out imports from Central America, Mexico and other nations. U.S. textile producers ship fabric to those countries to be sewed and shipped back to the United States duty-free.

The filing begins a 90- to 150-day process for determining whether this year's increase in imports warrants a limit.

The European Union rejected yesterday an appeal by textile makers for immediate restrictions on imports of Chinese clothing, saying no clear evidence exists of damage to European producers.

The European textile industry is demanding curbs on Chinese imports, which it says surged more than 46 percent in January.

On March 10, Euratex, representing companies including Marzotto SpA and Chargeurs SA, called for limits on products including blazers and socks.

The four-decade system of global quotas on textile trade ended Dec. 31, and monthly data released this year showed an almost immediate increase in garment shipments to the United States from China.

Chinese exports of shirts, skirts and other apparel to the United States surged 47 percent in January. During the first quarter of this year, total imports were 63 percent higher than in the quarter last year, according to tabulations of Commerce data by the textile industry. The government didn't provide totals of imports.

China's entry into the World Trade Organization included the stipulation that the United States may impose temporary "textile-specific safeguard" measures on imports from China. Those cases have drawn a backlash from U.S. apparel makers that want to tap cheap Chinese imports and from the Chinese government.

A study by the World Trade Organization last year predicted that China, India and Pakistan would dominate global clothing trade after the expiration of quotas.

Employment in the U.S. textile and apparel industries has fallen 381,300, or 36 percent, since January 2001, according to U.S. data.

Still, importers of apparel said yesterday's filing is more of the same.

"Safeguards on China won't help the U.S. industry," said Laura Jones, executive director of the United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. "The history of this program over the last 30 or 40 years is that this industry has never been satisfied with what the government has done. They always want more."

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