WASHINGTON — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel has asked a federal agency to begin monitoring Chinese apparel and textile imports in a preemptive bid to protect domestic textile industries when quotas are lifted at the end of the year.
In a letter to Shara L. Aranoff, chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission, Rangel asked that the ITC initiate an open-ended investigation to provide the committee with data on volume, value, unit value and import market share of 34 apparel and textile import categories from China, which were valued at $9.4 billion in 2007 and are currently restrained by quotas. The ITC will provide the committee with Customs data once every two weeks and final census data once a month, in addition to a historical analysis. The data will be published on the ITC Web site. An ITC spokeswoman confirmed the agency would comply with the request.
U.S. textile producers have waged an intense lobbying campaign in favor of a monitoring program, arguing it could prevent the kind of massive surges in apparel and textile imports that were seen in 2005 when global quotas were lifted.
In his letter, Rangel characterized the investigation and data collection as a new “textile import monitoring program” that is necessary due to a “concern about a potential surge of textile imports from China on Dec. 31.”
“Monitoring Chinese textile imports will help provide the committee with timely, accurate information to assess whether Chinese imports are causing or are threatening to cause market disruption in the United States and developing countries,” said Rangel. “While the administration does not appear to be taking this concern seriously, the Committee on Ways and Means has a clear interest in and a responsibility to address this issue and, if warranted after reviewing the data, prevent harm to American workers, industry and communities.”
Rangel stressed the committee is not requesting an analysis of the import data nor requesting the ITC to initiate a general China safeguard case.
“I think the significance of this is that the Congressional branch, in addition to what the executive branch has done, is ratcheting up the attention and focus on this problem,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. “Obviously, the Congressional branch is saying we are not only interested in the impact on U.S. workers, we are also interested in the impact as it relates to our preferential trading partners.”
Apparel importers and retailers, which shipped $32 billion worth of apparel, textile and home furnishings into the U.S. from China in the past year, were anticipating a quota-free environment with China next year. Although they anticipate the monitoring to have minimal impact in the short term, how it plays out in the long term is now unclear.
“I think we have take it one step at a time,” said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “The fact that they haven’t laid down criteria [for initiating a safeguard case based on an import surge] does raise some concern.”