By  on July 16, 2008

WASHINGTON — The House Ways & Means Committee will consider whether special scrutiny of foreign imports is needed to prevent damage to the U.S. textile industry, chairman Charles Rangel said Tuesday.

Citing intense competition from China and Vietnam, Rangel (D., N.Y.) said at a National Press Club forum on U.S. competitiveness that the panel believes in “protecting [the domestic textile industry’s] interests at the same time we’re promoting trade with other countries.”

The issue is on the committee’s agenda before Congress adjourns this year, he said.

Rangel’s remarks and his committee’s interest in the industry issue comes at a time of intensified lobbying by apparel importers and the U.S. textile industry over apparel and textile imports from Vietnam and China.

Four leading apparel importer and retail trade associations sent a letter Tuesday to Rangel and Rep. Jim McCrery (R., La.), the ranking Republican on the committee, and Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), ranking Republican on Finance, outlining their opposition to extending the government’s import monitoring program.

A Vietnam monitoring program, administered by the Commerce Department to evaluate whether apparel is being sold in the U.S. below market value or the cost of manufacturing, known as dumping, will expire in mid-January. In addition, a three-year bilateral quota agreement with China that restricts 34 categories of apparel and textile imports is set to end by Dec. 31.

The textile industry has suffered huge jobs losses partly because of international trade. The industry recently worked with members of the House Appropriations Committee to include language in a nonbinding report accompanying a spending bill that urges the administration to extend the Vietnam monitoring program and expand it to include China.

The retail and importer groups objected strongly to the panel’s report, arguing that it could have “significant implications for trade.” The coalition said the language was inserted in the report without consultations with the industry and would set an “unjustified and harmful precedent” and would continue and expand an “ineffective and ill-conceived program.”

The letter was signed by the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, the National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

“We are concerned that this is primarily intended to chill and micromanage trade by encouraging the movement of sourcing to other countries with no apparent gain to the United States,” the coalition said.

They also said the Vietnam monitoring program has not brought a single order or job back to the U.S.

“At a time when consumer prices are increasing, Congress should not force the hand of the next administration to spend valuable taxpayer resources on a program that will provide no real value to the domestic apparel industry,” the groups stated.

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