By  on May 11, 2007

WASHINGTON — Apparel imports from China are soaring, increasing 46.5 percent in March, more than a year into the three-year regimen of quotas the Bush administration negotiated in late 2005.

Chinese apparel imports for the month totaled 429 million square meter equivalents, valued at $1.3 billion. In all, 34 types of apparel and textiles are under quota, part of the November 2005 deal reached between the U.S. and China that lasts through 2008. The deal was intended to protect U.S. textile companies from imports and bring calm to apparel trade that was disrupted by the stop and start of safeguard quotas.

In March, 27.4 percent of the apparel imports, by volume, were under quota. The year-over-year increase was driven partly by shipments of cotton nightwear and cotton dresses, which were limited by quota, and women's cotton trousers, a category covered by the restraints. China's apparel and textiles imports grew 18.3 percent in March, to 1.3 billion SME, according to a Commerce Department report released Thursday.

"The trade has just gotten into the groove," said Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, who noted this year's increase was inflated because of a slow start for the quota system last year.

Trade is steadier than under safeguards, when restraints could be imposed unpredictably, but employment at U.S. apparel and textile producers has continued to wane; 29,000 jobs were lost in the 12 months ended April 30.

"Necessary, but not nearly sufficient," was how Charles McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services, described the quotas. "There are things that public policy can do, and the quotas did provide a very important, if brief, respite for many companies in the industry. It gave at least a few of them a little bit of breathing space."

China is routinely assailed by textile concerns and lawmakers in Congress for what they argue are a series of unfair advantages, from a managed currency that reduces their prices to state subsides.

The boost from China, as well as increases from El Salvador, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam, drove up total apparel and textile imports 2.2 percent, to 4.1 billion SME valued at $7.5 billion. Pakistan, Canada and Mexico all lost share in the import rally.Higher oil prices and, to a much lesser extent, apparel imports, pushed the U.S. deficit in goods and services to $63.9 billion, the largest such deficit in six months. The deficit in goods with China, however, narrowed to $17.2 billion from $18.4 billion in February.

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