- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

The United States will limit fast-growing clothing imports from Vietnam under an agreement reached during the weekend, U.S. trade officials said.
   
   Vietnam’s apparel and textile sales to the United States have skyrocketed since the two countries normalized trade relations in 2001, making the Southeast Asian nation the sixth-biggest source of those shipments to the United States.
   
   “Vietnam did have unlimited growth. Now they are limited like every other country,” said a U.S. trade official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named.
   
   U.S. manufacturers had called for protection from the fast-growing sales, citing some products with growth rates of more than 1,000 percent. Clothing importers and retailers wanted free trade to continue, citing benefits for American consumers.
   
   Overall, the value of clothing and fabric imported from Vietnam jumped from $49 million in 2001 to $952 million in 2002, trade officials said.
   
   Vietnam has asked to be exempt from quotas.
   
   “We are totally unsatisfied,” said Le Quoc An, chairman of Vietnam Textile and Garment Corp., the country’s largest textile manufacturer, the Associated Press reported. “They threatened to unilaterally impose the quotas if Vietnam did not agree.”
   
   Vietnam is not a member of the World Trade Organization, so the United States could impose trade restrictions unilaterally.
   
   Clothing and fabric are the second-biggest exports for Vietnam, after oil. The weekend deal, which takes effect Thursday, places quotas on 38 products, such as knit shirts and pants.
   
   U.S. trade officials during the weekend said that shipments should be limited to $1.65 billion over a 12-month span. They had been on pace to top $2 billion.
   
   But the deal, which can be extended past its 2004 expiration, allows continuing growth of clothing and fabric exports from Vietnam to the United States. On average, Vietnam’s exports will be allowed to increase by 7 percent annually.
   
   “They were the only major producer in Asia without quotas,” a U.S. trade official said.
   
   The United States also had accused Vietnam of being a conduit for illegal shipments of Chinese clothes, so Chinese manufacturers could avoid quotas on their products.
   
   As part of the weekend deal, Vietnam agreed to allow U.S. customs officials to inspect its plants. The inspections are used to ensure that products are made on premises, and not shipped from China through Vietnam.
   
   If inspectors determine that apparel and textile trade is not originating from Vietnam, the United States can reduce Vietnam’s quotas, a trade official said.

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