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WASHINGTON — Ten senators from textile-producing states urged Bush administration officials Tuesday to deny a request from Bangladesh to exceed its 2002 limits on cotton trouser imports.
The letter sent to Bush cabinet members underscores the dilemma facing White House officials. If Bangladesh isn’t given a special exception to ship more trousers this year or allowed to borrow from its 2003 quota, then several major retailers, including Sears, Wal-Mart and Target, won’t get their Bangladeshi cotton trousers in time for fall and holiday sales.
However, if Bush officials make allowances for Bangladesh, the senators argue, the White House would renege on a promise to help flagging U.S. textile makers compete internationally by forcing foreign countries to follow trade agreements.
“The administration must not reward [Bangladesh’s] blatant disregard for a negotiated agreement by granting it greater access to the textile market,” the letter stated. “The hard-working men and women who make their living in the textile industry are simply unable to remain pawns in trade negotiations.”
The bipartisan letter was signed by the senators from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia. Recipients included U.S. Trade Representative Bob Zoellick, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
“It goes without saying that granting Bangladesh additional concessions, under these circumstances, will create a bad precedent and have the unfortunate effect of encouraging additional requests for exceptions to existing rules,” the letter added.
Retailers are stuck because Bangladesh miscalculated its quota use after orders were taken, and in many cases, shipped. Now, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 dozen — or up to 2.4 million pairs — of women’s, girls’, men’s and boys’ cotton trousers are being held at U.S. ports or in transit. The Bangladesh quota for these garments is 3.8 million dozen, so the limits have been exceeded by about 5 percent.
A decision by Commerce Department officials is considered imminent. One choice before them — something that has been granted the Philippines and Turkey in similar situations in recent years — would be to allow Bangladesh to borrow from next year’s cotton trouser quota, but with a penalty reducing quota the following year.
It’s not uncommon for countries to be allowed to borrow quota from similar apparel categories when limits are reached. Bangladesh, under terms of its U.S. textile agreement, used to borrow as much as 15 percent from quota on category 847, which is for non-cotton vegetable-fiber trousers, such as silk blends and ramie. However, this year, quotas were lifted on category 847 as part of the phaseout among World Trade Organization members of all textile and apparel quota systems by 2005.
The senators’ letter counters efforts by House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R., Calif.), House Trade Subcommittee Chairman Phil Crane (R., Ill.), Rep. Bill McDermott (D., Wash.) and other House members to solicit administration help for the impoverished Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh dilemma also is occurring as several House Republicans from textile-producing states are fighting for reelection.
The Bush administration’s promises to help the textile industry were made to these lawmakers who feared political fallout from voting last December to renew the President’s trade promotion authority.
Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, estimated the retail value of the errant pants to be about $50 million.