WASHINGTON — The Bush administration Monday said it would begin a review of surging Chinese apparel and textile imports to consider whether to impose temporary safeguard quotas on $624.5 million worth of shipments.
The move comes in the face of mounting complaints that imports from China — which have been unrestrained since the nations of the World Trade Organization dropped quotas on Jan. 1 — are taking a heavy toll on manufacturers in the U.S. and developing world.
The disclosure that the Bush administration would “self-initiate” a review — rather than wait until the domestic industry filed complaint petitions — came as something of a procedural victory for the textile lobby. Trade experts suggested the move was intended to help the administration persuade GOP textile-state lawmakers to back the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the administration will begin a review of cotton knit shirts and blouses, cotton trousers and cotton and man-made fiber underwear from China to determine if the imports are hurting U.S. manufacturers.
Imports from China grew at a staggering rate in the categories the administration plans to tackle. On Friday, the Commerce Department released figures showing more than tenfold growth in imports of Chinese cotton shirts and pants.
“This decision is the first step in a process to determine whether the U.S. market for these products is being disrupted and whether China is playing a role in that disruption,” said Gutierrez in a statement. “This administration is committed to enforcing our trade agreements and to providing assistance to our domestic textile and apparel industry consistent with our international rights and obligations.”
China agreed to the safeguard measure, which essentially allows temporary quotas, when it joined the WTO in 2001. The safeguard quotas would limit China’s growth in the categories affected to no more than 7.5 percent higher than the previous year’s shipments.
A decision of whether to apply safeguard quotas could be made in a little more than a month. The administration’s procedures call for a 30-day public comment period and then allow the government up to 60 days to decide whether to act.
Lawmakers said the move could smooth the way for passage of CAFTA, which would extend free-trade benefits to Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
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