- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday said conditions are improving for the textile industry as the economy strengthens and trade agreements are more strictly enforced.

But U.S. fabric and clothing manufacturers, which have shed more than half of their work force in the past decade, say the administration is not doing enough to ensure survival against foreign competition.

“Judging by the fact that another 50,000 American textile jobs have been lost since the first report was issued last fall, the president’s textile policies have proven to be an absolute failure,” said Cass Johnson, acting president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.

In an annual report to the Congressional Textile Caucus, the administration highlighted efforts to improve the competitive environment for domestic industry.

“I think the kinds of things … the administration is trying to do are going to be helpful to the folks that are still going to be around,” James Leonard, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for textiles, said in a conference call with reporters.

The report highlighted new trade agreements to allow easier access to foreign markets, quotas on products from Vietnam and efforts to stop smuggled products. It also detailed a proposal to cap Chinese exports, though a decision is not expected until mid-November.

The textile caucus was not impressed.

“It seems to me that [the report] sends a strong message to the domestic textile industry that this administration continues to ignore the adverse effects that unfair U.S. trade policies continue to inflict on this very important segment of this economy,” said Rep. Howard Coble, North Carolina Republican and caucus chairman.

China remains the chief concern of U.S. fabric and clothing manufacturers.

The Bush administration and Congress “have to decide whether manufacturing is going to stay in the United States. We’re the canary in the mine,” said Jock Nash, Washington lobbyist for Milliken & Co.

The Spartanburg, S.C., company this week announced that it would close two plants and lay off 260 workers in the state.

South Carolina has been hit hard by layoffs in the textile industry. Textile employment stood at 41,300 in August, down 4,000 jobs from a year earlier. Industry employment nationwide dropped about 13 percent to 731,200 in September from a year earlier.

Labor-intensive textile and apparel industry jobs have long followed cheaper wages, from mills in the Northeast to the Southeastern United States, to Mexico and the Caribbean, and now especially to China.

As Americans were being laid off, U.S. imports of fabric and clothing from China jumped nearly 50 percent from last year.

Manufacturers have vowed to make job losses an election issue. “The Carolinas … that’s not Bush country anymore,” Mr. Nash said.

Textile and apparel imports from China added up to $8.7 billion in 2002, up about 25 percent from 2001.

The industry has petitioned for quotas on several Chinese products.

The Bush administration is considering its first protectionist action specifically targeting China: capping imports of Chinese bras, dressing gowns and knit fabrics.

The administration also has asked China to stop pegging its currency to the dollar — which supposedly gives Chinese manufacturers an unfair advantage — and to implement its World Trade Organization obligations more rapidly, easing the way for some U.S. exports to the Asian nation.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide