By  on October 13, 2006

WASHINGTON — China powered ahead as a manufacturing leader in August, increasing apparel and textile imports to the U.S. 14.8 percent, to 2 billion-square-meter equivalents.

Vietnam's apparel and textile imports, though smaller in scale, jumped 15.4 percent, to 115 million SME in August. The country is poised to join the World Trade Organization and expand trade with the U.S., putting domestic producers in more direct competition with Vietnam's expanding non-market economy.

Total apparel and textile imports from the world rose 4.6 percent for the month, to 4.8 billion SME.

Vietnam's imports are restrained by quotas, which would disappear with WTO membership. A U.S.-Vietnam bilateral deal could extend some quotas for a year if surges occur, but importers are upset over an agreement the Bush administration cut last month with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.).

Graham and Dole lifted their holds on a bill implementing permanent normal trade relations with Vietnam — allowing low tariff rates — in return for the administration's agreeing to initiate antidumping cases against Vietnam if imports started undercutting the price of U.S. products and hurting the domestic industry. The reviews would start six months after Vietnam joined the WTO.

A group of 29 importers, including Gap Inc., Federated Department Stores and Target Corp., as well as eight trade groups, sent a letter to Com­merce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and U.S. Trade Rep. Susan Schwab late Wednesday complaining they were cut out of the loop and the result was a bad deal.

"It sets a terrible and likely irreversible precedent for this and future administrations in the conduct of antidumping cases, which will harm not only U.S. apparel retailers, importers and manufacturers, but any U.S. industry in manufacturing and agriculture," the letter said.

A successful antidumping case installs tariffs on the goods being dumped, potentially resulting in rising costs for importers and rising prices for consumers. Importers are also concerned the government could eventually take such action against China.

Part of China's growth in August stemmed from a favorable comparison with a year ago, when shipments of some goods, such as women's and girls' knit shirts and cotton trousers, were halted as safeguard quotas filled.The safeguard quotas, which were the product of the elimination of a global system of quotas and China's entry into the WTO, have been replaced by restrictions that run through 2008 covering 34 categories.

In August, 20.4 percent of China's apparel imports and 3.1 percent of textile shipments were covered by quotas. The quotas on China, intended to help shore up producers in the Western Hemisphere that buy U.S. textiles, appear to have been a boon to India and Indonesia.

Apparel and textile imports from India shot up 17.6 percent, to 246 million SME in August, with growth in cotton nightwear, knit fabrics, synthetic filament fabrics and cotton terry towels — all goods covered under the China quotas. Imports from Indonesia jumped 20.4 percent in August, to 149 million SME, with strength in cotton trousers, man-made fiber trousers and cotton knit shirts and blouses, also China quota goods.

Shipments from a group of 24 Caribbean nations rose just 1.3 percent for the month, to 346 million SME.

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