By  on April 25, 2007

WASHINGTON — Airing their grievances to Commerce Depart­ment officials, executives from Liz Claiborne, J.C. Penney and others spoke out Tuesday against the Bush administration's program to monitor imports from Vietnam and possibly self-initiate antidumping cases.

The uncertain impact and timing of the program, which could lead to higher duties on Viet­namese trousers, shirts, underwear, swimwear and sweaters, has given brands pause when placing production in the country.

"We aren't leaving yet, but we aren't growing, either, and that's a significant change in our strategic plan," said Ronald Shulman, president of J.C. Penney Pur­chasing Corp., who also emphasized the importance of retail to the U.S. economy.

"No monitoring and no antidumping investigation is going to bring one apparel manufacturing job back to the U.S.," said Shulman.

David Spooner, assistant secretary for import administration, presided over the hearing at Commerce on Tuesday and is implementing the monitoring program.

Importers appealed to Spooner to alter the program so that it looks first at which U.S. producers are being hurt by imports from Vietnam.

"The administration has broadly identified the imports it is targeting," said Gary Ross, speaking on behalf of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. "But no one has identified U.S. manufacturers or particular products an antidumping investigation would supposedly help protect. We need to turn this picture around."

Afterward, Ross, who is vice president of corporate manufacturing and sourcing for Liz Clai­borne Inc., said his company has tempered its orders in Vietnam and is focusing on vendors there that also have operations in other countries so production can be moved as needed.

The debate over this program with Vietnam might lay the groundwork for a larger fight over China.

"We believe it's a prelude of things to come," said Ross. "The elimination of safeguard quotas in 2008 in China — could this type of agreement set future precedent?"

The monitoring program also drew complaints from the Viet­namese government, which is "considering the possibility" of a World Trade Organization case against the U.S., said Khien Duy Nguyen, commercial counselor for the government of Vietnam, during a break in the hearing.

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