By  on April 13, 2005

WASHINGTON — Apparel imports from China jumped a record 199 percent in February over a year ago as the U.S. is to begin reviewing 10 China safeguard petitions that seek to impose quotas on $2 billion worth of goods.

Worldwide textile and apparel imports to the U.S. rose 19.4 percent in February to 3.96 billion square meters equivalent as China’s combined shipments surged 105.8 percent to 1.27 billion SME, driving the month of February and the two-month period to record highs, said Ross Arnold, a Commerce Department international trade specialist.

The government data released Tuesday came amid complaints that imports from China — unrestrained since the nations of the World Trade Organization dropped quotas on Jan. 1 — are taking a heavy toll on manufacturers in the U.S. and in the developing world.

The February import data, based on a Census Bureau analysis, tracked closely with preliminary findings the Commerce Department released on April 4 as part of its new textile-monitoring system, which revealed imports from China exploded in key categories during the first three months of the year.

Census information provides a more in-depth analysis of the import statistics and includes revisions from the bureau of Customs & Border Protection, but it lags actual import of goods by six weeks. The next biweekly installment, covering March 27-April 9, is slated to be released today.

The flurry of statistics highlights China’s rising economic dominance and adds to the debate over whether its exports should be curtailed. The Bush administration took an unprecedented action last week, saying it would begin a self-initiated review of Chinese apparel and textile imports to consider whether to impose three safeguard quotas on $624.5 million worth of imported cotton knit shirts and blouses, cotton trousers, and cotton and man-made fiber underwear.

Building on that move, a coalition of U.S. textile and fiber producers filed seven China safeguard petitions seeking to put quota limits on $1.45 billion worth of shipments on products such as cotton and man-made fiber knit shirts, sweaters, bras and dressing gowns.

China’s share of U.S. textile and apparel imports grew to 30.8 percent in the first two months of 2005 on a volume basis. Its share of U.S. textile imports increased to 35.9 percent and its share of apparel imports rose to 24 percent. (See chart below for dollar-basis market share.)The import growth came primarily in cotton trousers, which were up 2,462 percent compared with a year ago, as well as cotton and man-made fiber nightwear, which increased 785 percent. Imports of cotton knit shirts also rose 785 percent and cotton and man-made fiber underwear jumped 379 percent.

“This incredible increase and penetration into the U.S. market clearly demands a need for quick action on our safeguard cases,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, part of the coalition filing market-disruption cases. “The evidence is blatant. The government doesn’t need four months of this type of activity to figure out that China is wreaking enormous havoc on our market. To give them two or three more months of growth before taking action is going to cost a significant amount of U.S. jobs.”

Importer and retailer groups said the statistics showed other countries could compete directly with China in a quota-free world and contended that the February increases were an anomaly.

“A lot of overshipments [in 2004] got caught in embargoes and were not released until Feb. 1,” said Steve Lamar, senior vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “The government pushed a lot of trade into February” because it imposed staged entries on overshipped goods in 2004 that were embargoed.

Lamar said the February data showed the short-term anomaly, but also reflected a “longer-term shifting [in sourcing] that is occurring as people move from having to worry about quotas as a prime determinant.”

Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, cited other countries that posted strong import increases in the first two months of the year, including Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Bangladesh and Jordan.

“China is growing a lot, but not in every category,” Hughes said. “If you look at the apparel data, you see you still have a lot of strength in other countries.”


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