- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

U.S. clothing and fabric manufacturers yesterday said they will ask the Bush administration to pre-empt an expected surge in low-cost shirts, pants, dresses and other products from China.

China is expected to dominate world trade in clothing after Jan. 1, when a global system of quotas expires. The U.S. and European caps on imports help protect domestic industries and also allow some developing countries to fill in low-cost market niches.

“Our position is that we can clearly see the enormous damage that is on the horizon in terms of China’s access to the U.S. market and ability to overwhelm the U.S. market,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, an industry group.

Mr. Tantillo said the Bush administration had signaled to the industry that it would accept and act on petitions based on the threat of rising imports, a significant shift in policy. For all past petitions, imports already had surged and the industry groups could document the trend with precise figures.

The Bush administration, however, appeared to discount any new tack.

“In reviewing petitions, we consider whether the petition includes the information required in our published procedures and whether it includes sufficient specific factual data necessary to make a determination as to whether imports are disrupting or threatening to disrupt the U.S. market,” said Mary Brown Brewer, a Commerce Department spokeswoman.

The procedures were published in May 2003 and require data that show Chinese imports “are increasing rapidly in absolute terms.”

The U.S. trade deficit with China has almost doubled in the past five years, and from 2002 to 2003 imports from China increased by 22 percent to $151.6 billion, with electronics, apparel and furniture leading the way, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Rising competition from China has hurt some U.S. companies and led to demands for protection.

Clothing and fabric manufacturers have been especially active. Industry groups already have successfully filed safeguard petitions against Chinese-made bras, dressing gowns and knit fabric — product lines on which quotas were phased out at the end of 2001 and Chinese imports skyrocketed. The administration accepted the petitions and limited imports to 7 percent growth.

The industry hopes to file new petitions this month and have new import caps in place by January, when global quotas would end.

A study by the National Council of Textile Organizations released yesterday said that if quotas are removed completely, China’s share of the U.S. market will rise from 10 percent to more than 70 percent.

More than 650,000 textile and apparel jobs in the United States would be lost, NCTO said.

“We as an industry are not going to stand by and allow that to happen,” Mr. Tantillo said yesterday.

U.S. clothing importers, mainly retail chains, said they would resist any new quotas.

“They can hit China all they want. It’s not going to make the U.S. industry more competitive, and it’s also only going to shift sourcing to other, probably Asian suppliers,” said Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel for the National Retail Federation.

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