- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

The Bush administration yesterday moved to slow imports of Chinese-made clothing, limiting the number of cotton shirts, cotton pants and underwear that can enter the U.S. market.

The decision is the first to block Chinese clothing imports since a global system of quotas expired on Dec. 31.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the decision was based on market disruption and was “due to the magnitude of increases in textile imports from China and China’s significant capacity to increase production and exports to the United States in these product categories.”

China’s rapidly rising exports have riled trade relations between Washington and Beijing. China’s trade deficit reached $168 billion last year and is on pace to surpass that figure this year, though March figures showed a significant decrease from previous months.

March imports from China fell 4.4 percent, led by a 21.2 percent drop in clothing and textiles, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. But imports of the cotton shirts, cotton pants and cotton and synthetic underwear considered in yesterday’s decision have risen by roughly 1,500 percent, 1,350 percent and 366 percent from January to April.

The administration has thrown up the new limits, called safeguards, before, but segments of the U.S. textile and apparel industry are pushing for more barriers.

“The unprecedented surge of Chinese imports imperiled tens of thousands of jobs, leaving the U.S. government no choice but to act,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC), a trade group for domestic manufacturers that has agitated for a tougher line against China.

Groups such as AMTAC also are asking the administration to cap imports from China, valued last year at about $2 billion. The safeguards limit import growth to 7.5 percent in the specific categories of clothing. The U.S. and China also are to enter into consultations.

China’s government, when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, agreed that the United States and European Union could impose the caps. But it has since rejected the mechanism as protectionist.

Nevertheless, China has recognized the potential backlash as its products flood U.S. and European market, and has considered some steps to curb its exports.

U.S. industry and the Bush administration, with yesterday’s decision, appear unwilling to wait.

“Today’s action … demonstrates this administration’s commitment to leveling the playing field for U.S. industry by enforcing our trade agreements,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

Importers, such as retailers and U.S. clothing manufacturers with operations in China, decried the decision.

“The only result of this action will be harm to U.S. consumers and to U.S. importers and retailers who are trying to provide Americans with the clothes they want, at the right quality and the right price,” said Laura Jones, executive director of the United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel.

The three categories covered yesterday account for 7.4 percent of all apparel imports from China, AMTAC said.

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