By  on May 9, 2007

WASHINGTON — A group of House lawmakers is challenging the Bush administration's authority over an apparel import monitoring program for Vietnam, alleging that it is inconsistent with U.S. trade remedy laws.

Six members of the House Ways & Means Committee outlined their concerns in a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. They asked him to define the agency's legal authority in establishing the program and urged him to set boundaries on the type of apparel products the agency could monitor and potentially self-initiate antidumping cases against.

"If the department is unable to demonstrate this legal authority, we would expect the program to be abolished immediately," said the letter, cosigned by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.), Jim Ramstad (R., Minn.), Mike Thompson (D., Calif.), Jim McDermott (D., Wash.), Joseph Crowley (D., N.Y.) and Ron Kind (D., Wis.).

The lawmakers acted in response to complaints from importers concerned about uncertainty in their sourcing because the program could lead to higher duties on Vietnamese apparel imports. The importers appealed to Commerce officials at a hearing in April to alter the program to look first at which products are manufactured in the U.S. and which producers are being damaged by the imports.

The position of the six Congressmen clashes with that of two senators, Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Elizabeth Dole (R, N.C.), who represent major textile producing states. The monitoring program is the by-product of a deal between Graham and Dole and the Bush administration that got them to withdraw opposition to a bill last year that granted permanent normal trade relations status to Vietnam.

Textile producers argue that they need the initiative because they are being hurt by apparel imports from Vietnam that are sold below cost in the U.S. market.

"The administration will adhere to its commitment to Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Lindsey Graham and will work with all stakeholders to monitor imports in a transparent manner," a Commerce Department spokesman said.

The House lawmakers warned that if the monitoring goes forward, Commerce must take "every reasonable step to minimize the negative consequences for U.S. importers, retailers and consumer" by limiting its scope to specific designated apparel products produced in a commercially viable fashion in the U.S., if those producers ask for monitoring and can prove they have been injured by the imports.

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