By  on September 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — Sourcing executives with orders in Vietnam are waiting to see if their shipments are going to become more expensive.

The answer should come later this month or next when the Commerce Department wraps up its first biannual review of trouser, shirt, underwear, swimwear and sweater imports from the country.

The review, which began last week, will determine if the U.S., at least until the next review, is going to self-initiate an antidumping case on some of the imports from Vietnam. Such a case, if it successfully works its way through the U.S. International Trade Commission, would lead to higher duties. The idea is to offset the impact of imports that are priced unfairly low due to government subsidies or currency policies.

There is no telling how steep or broad any antidumping duties might be and importers have complained that the Bush administration has not given them enough information to be able to predict what goods are most likely to be impacted.

"People are going to be watching very carefully to see what they're saying, how they say it, when they say it," said Brenda Jacobs, counsel for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. "It's all going to matter because no sourcing decision is set so long as this program is in place."

Some companies, such as Liz Claiborne, began months ago to limit their exposure to sudden price increases by contracting with multinational producers in Vietnam who can shift production to other countries as needed.

It is difficult to determine from the import statistics the government has published if any antidumping cases will be initiated. For instance, Vietnamese imports of women's and girls' cotton trousers were priced at $58.40 a dozen in February and fell for two months before rising again to $60.23 in July. Meanwhile, the total number of pairs shipped has risen and fallen over the last six months.

Dumping is determined, however, through a process that takes into account prices in the Vietnamese or similar markets. Should the review find that goods are being dumped, it must be determined if a U.S. producer of similar product is being injured.

"If [Commerce] finds that an injury analysis is warranted, the department will examine a variety of indicators pertaining to the domestic industry, including but not limited to price trends, levels of production, capacity utilization, net sales, market share, profitability, lost sales, employment and bankruptcy that may denote injury," said a Commerce spokeswoman.

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