By and  on December 15, 2005

WASHINGTON — Imports of Chinese apparel and textiles swelled 41.1 percent in October to 1.5 billion square meter equivalents valued at $1.9 billion, as the manufacturing powerhouse kept picking up market share.

Apparel and textiles imports contributed to a record U.S. trade deficit of $68.9 billion for the month. China made up $20.5 billion of that figure.

Total global apparel and textile imports in October rose 9.3 percent from a year earlier to 4.5 billion SME, worth $8 billion, according to the Commerce Department's monthly report on trade. China's much faster growth came at the expense of countries such as South Korea and Canada.

Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland, said the deficit is likely to worsen in the months ahead. That means more Americans will leave the manufacturing sector for lower-paying and less-productive jobs, future growth will be hampered by a reduction in spending on research and development, and the nation's debt will continue to pile up, he said.

"You can live well today, but in the future you're going to be poorer," he said. "By not dealing with this issue, [President] George Bush is trading away textile jobs in the Southeast to Chinese people who did not elect him."

China's fashion industry has advantages beyond its large pool of low-cost labor, such as a broad base ranging from cotton farmers to textile and apparel manufacturers. U.S. textile firms and many lawmakers claim Chinese firms also have an unfair edge as a result of currency policies that make their goods less expensive in the global market and hefty state subsidies.

Along with other apparel and textile producers such as Pakistan and India, China also got a boost because the World Trade Organization eliminated quotas among 149 member nations on Jan. 1. However, the U.S. in May began imposing safeguard quotas, which China agreed to as a condition of joining the WTO in 2001.

A U.S.-Sino deal signed last month ensures that more than $6 billion worth of annual imports from China will remain under quota until the end of 2008. That restraint should help other countries solidify their import increases. Behind China, Pakistan posted the second-largest import rise by volume in October, shipping 43.9 million SME more than a year ago to 297.4 million SME, worth $248.9 million. Rounding out the top three, India's apparel and textile imports jumped by 40.8 million SME to 212.6 million SME, worth $413 million.Canada posted the biggest year-over-year losses for the month, down 30.9 million SME to 255.5 million SME, worth $248.4 million; South Korea, was down 15.8 million SME to 184.9 million SME, worth $177 million, and Turkey was off 13.3 million SME to 72 million SME, worth $146.6 million.

In a separate development involving a controversial trade measure, Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio), introduced a proposal Wednesday urging senators selected for a conference committee on a broad budget savings package to strike a provision that would repeal the so-called Byrd Amendment, which funnels money — $1 billion in the last five years — to companies hurt by undervalued imports. The Senate is expected to vote on DeWine's motion today.

The House and Senate have passed budget-reduction packages and a conference committee is hashing out the differences between the two bills. A main point of contention centers around the provision to repeal the Byrd Amendment, named after Sen. Robert Byrd (D., W.Va.), which is contained in the House bill but not in the Senate bill. The budget package would also eliminate a cotton subsidy program deemed illegal by the WTO.

House lawmakers, which passed almost $50 billion in mandatory spending cuts in its package, maintain that repealing the Byrd law could add $3.5 billion over five years to the Treasury Department's coffers and bring the U.S. in compliance with the WTO, which ruled that the law violates global trade rules and must be abolished.

However, a large contingent of senators support the Byrd law and are fighting to keep it intact despite the ruling by the WTO.

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