WASHINGTON — China fever in the nation’s capital shows no sign of subsiding.

This time it’s the lobbying arms of apparel retailers and apparel and textile importers taking their turn, but in opposition to imposing limits on Chinese imports. In a letter sent Thursday to Capitol Hill, they expressed disappointment with 165 lawmakers who last month urged the Bush administration to impose limits on Chinese imports of bras, dressing gowns and knit fabric.

The importers argued that a decision due by Monday, which would impose quotas on these products, wouldn’t help the fortunes of textile mills fighting a prolonged downturn.

The quotas, called safeguards, can be levied under a special agreement World Trade Organization members struck with China in its bid to join the global trade body. Safeguards are designed to protect domestic markets being disrupted by Chinese imports, U.S. mills maintain.

“These specific safeguard actions, if carried out, will result merely in trade shifts from China to other countries, mostly in Asia,” wrote officials from the American Apparel & Footwear Association, International Mass Retail Association, National Retail Federation and the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel.

Instead, the associations noted the administration should focus its efforts on things such as textile tax breaks and trade policies to enhance mills’ global competitiveness. To that end, the associations also criticized the pro-safeguard lawmakers — 60 of whom come from Bush’s GOP camp —for urging the White House to negotiate a Central America Free Trade Agreement with no allowances for apparel receiving duty breaks made of non-U.S. or Central American textiles.

“If these Central American factories lose the ability to compete — as they surely will under an FTA that is too restrictive or not enacted swiftly — the U.S. textile industry will lose one of its best customers,” wrote the associations, noting how U.S. yarn and fabric exports to the region have “skyrocketed by more than 400 percent” in recent years.

Likewise, the associations criticized the lawmakers’ call for the Bush administration to drop its bid to eliminate global textile and apparel tariffs, along with all industrial goods.

“Under such a strategy, we will lose an incredible opportunity to open markets for U.S. branded textile and apparel products,” the associations wrote.The import groups’ letter comes at a time when anti-China fever is running high in Congress, with low-cost Chinese imports being singled out as contributing to the decline in U.S. manufacturing over the last three years.

The most recent anti-China salvo came in a letter sent by 20 Republican and Democratic House members from textile-producing states to Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, also sent Thursday. The lawmakers criticized a Fed report on the Midwest, which concluded that consumers in the region have benefited from low-cost Chinese imports.

“This statement fails to take into account the thousands of consumers whose jobs have been lost, primarily because of these imported goods,” the lawmakers wrote.

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