WASHINGTON — Textile executives are keeping a close eye on China, which dominated textile imports to the U.S. in May, but their new concern is another Communist country — Vietnam.
The American Textile Manufacturers Institute has requested that the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements impose quotas on all cotton and man-made fiber-knit shirt imports from Vietnam, according to Charles Bremer, vice president of international trade at the ATMI.
Imports of cotton-knit shirts from Vietnam in the first five months of the year rose 167 percent to 982,866 dozen, while imports of man-made fiber-knit shirts in the same period rose more than 1,000 percent to 132,813 dozen, according to the Commerce Department trade figures released Friday.
Cotton-knit shirts from Vietnam represent 0.6 percent of the import market share in the U.S., while man-made fiber- knit shirts represent 0.2 percent.
“Every dozen that comes in here from Vietnam is taking business away from domestic production,” Bremer said. “The volume is significant in these categories and we can’t just let them run free.”
Bremer said many textile executives are frustrated that the U.S. has not begun negotiations on a quota-setting textile-apparel bilateral pact with Vietnam. It is still unclear whether the U.S. is committed to beginning textile and apparel negotiations with Vietnam. The U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement went into effect on Dec. 10, granting the Southeast Asian nation normal trade relations status, which drastically lowers tariffs.
“There are no products from Vietnam that are presenting a challenge to the domestic industry at this point in time,” contended Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “Our position is that when it comes to apparel imports, ATMI doesn’t have credibility to request consultations with CITA on products its members don’t make.”
In the month of May alone, Vietnam was the second-largest growth country in apparel imports, according to Donald Foote, director of agreements division at Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel. Apparel imports from Vietnam rose 535 percent in May to 16 million square meters equivalent, Foote said. Overall, imports from the country rose 233 percent in the first five months of the year, but Vietnam still represents only 0.4 percent of the total import market in the U.S.
Meanwhile, China continued to eat up market share in May in several categories in which quotas were lifted on Jan. 1. Textile and apparel imports surged 15 percent in May, following a 15 percent increase in April, according to the Commerce report.
Textile imports were entirely responsible for the surge, zooming ahead by 27 percent, while apparel imports held steady, rising just 1 percent. This brings the first five months of overall textile and apparel imports to a 7.2 percent increase over the year-ago period, with textile imports up 16.6 percent and apparel imports down 2.8 percent, according to Foote.
China’s textile and apparel imports were up a whopping 75 percent for the first five months of the year, while Canada’s fell 1.5 percent.
On a year-to-date basis, China bumped Canada out as the number two supplier to the U.S., however Canada still holds that position on an annual basis.
“The principal country taking advantage of these quota removals is China,” he said. “It is the leading growth country in two of the six categories where quotas were removed, including man-made fiber furnishings and other cotton textiles, which includes handbags, travel and sport bags, and dish towels.”
China also dominated in four other categories, including tents and textile bags, man-made fiber luggage, handbags and flat goods, infants’ apparel and hats and caps, according to Foote.
“China is one country where quotas have been most restrictive, with one of the lowest growth rates,” Hughes said.
She said she was not surprised to find substantial increases in those categories where quotas were removed.
“What did anyone expect?” she asked rhetorically, referring to the Uruguay Round of negotiations that laid out the 10-year quota phaseout, set to expire at the end of 2004. “That’s what is supposed to happen.”
Bremer, on the other hand, said ATMI is studying China’s World Trade Organization entry agreement, which contains a textile-specific safeguard that could unilaterally reimpose quotas on Chinese categories for one year though 2008.
“We think action is appropriate and warranted given the sharp and substantial increases in imports from China,” Bremer said.
Meanwhile, Mexico, the number one supplier of textiles and apparel to the U.S., posted a 1.29 percent increase in apparel and textile imports in May, but dropped 12.37 percent in the first five months of the year.
“Mexico had a double-digit increase in textiles, but it was almost offset by its continuing decrease in apparel,” Foote said.