NEW YORK — It’s not just U.S. textile executives who are worried about the future of their industry.

This story first appeared in the December 6, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A Chinese government official said Tuesday that unless the U.S. government takes steps to help the domestic fabric industry, he doesn’t see a future for it in this country.

“It’s simply not possible for any country to be competitive in all areas of business and the U.S. is no exception,” Long Yongtu, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, said during a lecture at Baruch College in Manhattan. “The industry has to go through some restructuring.”

He also said it’s not just China that’s taking away business, but a combination of Far Eastern countries that have been more price competitive over an extended period of time.

The talk focused on how China plans to enforce its commitments to the World Trade Organization. As China’s chief trade negotiator from February 1997 to March 2002, Long led China in all WTO negotiations.

“There has been a lot of doubt about China’s commitment to the WTO rules because they are so long and complicated,” Long said. “Our commitment is of fundamental interest for China.”

Long said the effort on behalf of the Chinese government is partly responsible for China becoming what he said is the number-one destination for foreign investment.

Based on its population of 1.28 billion people, Long said the country can sustain its position as a top spot for cheap labor for the next 20 years. Once labor rates in the eastern part of the country get too high, he said manufacturers will shift production to central China, then further west.

“We will always have a large army waiting to work,” Long said. “We have to create 15 million jobs per year or we wouldn’t be able to sustain the socio-political stability.”