By  on March 16, 2005

WASHINGTON — A Chinese Ministry of Commerce delegation plans to meet here with U.S. trade officials at the end of the month amid the increasingly strident debate over curbing China’s apparel and textile exports.

Two officials at the Chinese embassy in the nation’s capital, who asked not to be identified, confirmed the talks between the Chinese and officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce.

The Chinese government-run news agency Xinhua, citing Wang Shenyang, president of the China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Textiles, reported this week that the delegation will try to convince the U.S. to forgo imposing quotas on its textile and apparel exports. The report also said China plans to hold talks with European trade officials in Brussels on the same topic.

Chinese embassy officials, however, said the discussions in Washington will not be textile-specific, but it is likely the issue of surging textile and apparel imports from China will surface. A Commerce spokeswoman said Tuesday the agency has not been contacted by the Chinese about a textile delegation meeting.

“We do have an ongoing dialogue with China regarding trade issues,” she said. “We haven’t been contacted to my knowledge about any special textile delegation coming.”

The timing of a meeting comes as tensions rise over China’s growing economic dominance and its potential to take over global apparel and textile production, which may imperil the jobs of 30 million workers worldwide.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told the European Parliament Tuesday he intends to publish guidelines on the use of safeguards on Chinese imports of textiles and apparel, which would set out clear “danger signals.”

Mandelson said that if Chinese import levels in any sector were to reach such danger zones, the EU would consider imposing safeguards.

But he stressed such a decision would not be “one that should be resorted to lightly nor automatically.”

Imports of apparel and textiles from China into the U.S. market rose substantially in January — the first month of unrestrained global apparel and textile trade in more than 30 years — prompting U.S. textile and fiber producers and the union UNITE HERE to ratchet up pressure on the Bush administration to self-initiate China safeguard cases and impose fresh quotas on key categories.Imports of women’s and girls’ cotton trousers surged more than 1,000 percent in January compared with a year ago, while imports of men’s and boys’ cotton trousers jumped 989.6 percent. China’s share of U.S. textile and apparel imports grew to 29.4 percent on a volume basis compared with January 2004.

Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said the government has not resolved many issues in four years of discussions with the Chinese.

“We’ve had enough talk on the issue,” Tantillo said. “The U.S. government needs to meet with the Chinese after they’ve initiated the safeguard mechanism. Once they’ve done that, the Chinese will recognize we mean business.”

The domestic coalition filed 12 safeguard petitions based on the threat of market disruption in October, targeting $1.9 billion in Chinese imports for further restraints, but those petitions have been caught up in a legal battle and suspended by a preliminary injunction for the past two months.

“This is clearly a joint effort on the part of importers and the Chinese to delay action by the U.S. government,” Tantillo said. “What they want is to create an environment where the U.S. government doesn’t act until most of the damage has already been done and that is unacceptable in our view.”

Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, which brought the safeguard action in court, said she doesn’t expect the two governments to negotiate a quota agreement premature to any safeguard action because it is illegal under World Trade Organization rules.

“The Chinese…have done things like tax apparel exports and [implement a monitoring system] to track exports in a more organized way, so they have a sense for shipments that have been designated for key countries like the U.S., and all of that is positive,” Hughes said. “If they do have a dialogue, the Chinese will say what they are doing, what they see as real growth, whether January was an anomaly. I suspect this will be about forestalling any precipitous action, but not about negotiating a deal.”

— With contributions from John Zarocostas, Geneva

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