By  on April 7, 2005

WASHINGTON — Building on the Bush administration’s decision to review China’s surging imports, a coalition of U.S. textile and fiber producers filed seven China safeguard petitions Wednesday, seeking the imposition of quotas on $1.45 billion worth of shipments the group alleges are decimating the U.S. manufacturing base.

The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, National Council of Textile Organizations, National Textile Association, National Cotton Council and UNITE HERE filed the cases covering cotton and man-made fiber knit shirts, sweaters, bras and dressing gowns, man-made fiber knit shirts and trousers, and certain synthetic filament fabric.

The petitions are based on import data from the first quarter and are classified as market-disruption cases. Domestic industry groups filed 12 threat-based petitions pegged to projected data six months ago, but they have been tied up for five months by an importer lawsuit and preliminary injunction challenging the government’s authority to accept cases based purely on threat.

The coalition now has the import data and says the numbers prove China is on its way to monopolizing global apparel and textile production. In the targeted categories, the import growth from China ranged from a 34.5 percent increase in bras to a 769 percent gain for certain synthetic filament fabric in the first quarter, according to Commerce Department statistics.

The Bush administration took an unprecedented action Monday, saying it would begin a self-initiated review of Chinese apparel and textile imports to consider whether to impose temporary safeguard quotas on $624.5 million worth of shipments of cotton knit shirts and blouses, cotton trousers and cotton and man-made fiber underwear.

The federal Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements will begin reviewing a total of 10 China safeguard petitions on separate tracks covering 20 categories and worth $2 billion in 2004. CITA has 15 days to review the market-disruption cases filed by the industry, followed by a 30-day comment period and 60 days to make a determination.

“We were clearly pleased the government took that action,” Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the AMTAC, said at a press conference. “Those were extremely critical categories that needed to be addressed. However, we as an industry felt strongly there were several other categories that must be included in the near term to limit China’s access to the U.S. market for textiles and apparel.’’He said the coalition is reviewing additional categories, including knit fabric and wool trousers.

Tantillo called on the government to institute a “comprehensive quota arrangement” with China that would set category growth limits to create the certainty lacking in the petition-by-petition process.

Imports from China are just one of the criteria CITA analyzes in its safeguard review. Other criteria include domestic production data, world imports and prices. Domestic textile and apparel industry employment has fallen from more than one million jobs in January 2001 to 665,900 through March, representing 36.4 percent of the January 2001 workforce.

Importer associations criticized the domestic industry’s actions and said they did not have enough evidence to prove that imports from China are linked to domestic production losses.

Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, said there was a backlog of imports that entered in January and February due to CITA’s directive that overshipped goods in categories that embargoed last year would be put on staged entries in the new year. She claimed the trade would even out through the year.

Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, said: “The fact is that China was more severely restrained under the quota system than any other exporting country and…the pressure has been building up a long time as a result of the restrictive quotas the textile industry insisted be imposed on China.”

Also at the press conference, Missy Branson, vice president of NCTO, said the Bush administration’s self-initiation on China safeguards is not enough to move her organization to support the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Trade experts have suggested the move by the administration was intended to persuade GOP textile-state lawmakers to back CAFTA.

Some NCTO members have signaled they might support CAFTA if the administration provides help in other areas, including China. A contingent of domestic textile producers and associations, including AMTAC and NTA, remain opposed to CAFTA because of its numerous exceptions for foreign fabric and yarns.

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