By  on June 22, 2007

WASHINGTON — Financier Wilbur Ross Jr. is spending $100 million to expand his apparel and textile facilities in Vietnam, despite the uncertainty created by a U.S. program that could lead to higher duties on apparel imports from that country.

Ross' private equity firm, W.L. Ross & Co., and its majority-owned unit, International Textile Group, have signed agreements with Phong Phu Corp., a major state-owned cotton textile and clothing manufacturer based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. A Vietnamese delegation, led by President Nguyen Minh Triet, has been signing business deals with U.S. companies in advance of Triet's meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House today.

The latest commitments by W.L. Ross are "basically a broadening and deepening of a relationship we had earlier established with the government of Vietnam," Ross said in an interview Thursday.

International Textile was formed through the acquisition of Burlington Industries and Cone Mills. In recent years, the financier has sought to grow textile and denim production internationally to capitalize on global business opportunities.

"We are further expanding beyond the $100 million that we've already invested there," said Joseph Gorga, president and chief executive officer of International Textile. "We are putting in a supply chain city in Vietnam. It's a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that combines weaving all the way through garment manufacturing and laundering" for cotton bottom weight fabrics.

Gorga said the first phase of the Phong Phu complex in Da Nang, Vietnam, would be operational by December, with the entire complex being fully operational by March.

W.L. Ross & Co. also agreed to serve as an adviser to Phong Fu, which is being privatized, and will invest another $100 million in broader real estate developments in Vietnam.

Ross had put construction of Phong Phu facilities on hold when the U.S. announced in January it was implementing a monitoring program of Vietnamese imports to determine whether the apparel imports from Vietnam are being dumped in the U.S. at below-market price or at less than the cost of manufacturing. The Commerce Department is conducting a six-month review of the import prices and could potentially self-initiate antidumping cases if they are warranted. The U.S. textile industry argues that the monitoring program is needed, arguing imports from Vietnam threaten the industry now that quotas have been lifted."Our feeling now is that, while it is aggravating and there has been concern from both the government of Vietnam and retailers, since there is no substance to it, it doesn't seem to me it should affect our business plans there at all," Ross said.

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