By  on June 20, 2007

U.S. apparel importers said they urged Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet on Tuesday to raise concerns about a controversial U.S. apparel import monitoring program when he meets President Bush at the White House this week.

A group of 12 apparel and textile executives met with Triet in New York to discuss the implications of the Bush administration's new initiative and the potential for Vietnam to lose orders from U.S. firms.

Gary Ross, vice president of corporate manufacturing and sourcing for Liz Claiborne Inc., told WWD that the group communicated a unified message to the Vietnamese president: "Consistent, predictable and dependable sourcing is important. The cloud of self-initiated antidumping could impact sourcing decisions, and that the Vietnamese government [must] take an active stance on self-initiated antidumping by taking the message to President Bush, his cabinet members and members of Congress."

The Bush administration launched the monitoring program in January to determine whether Vietnamese apparel imports are being dumped in the U.S. market below market price or at less than the cost of manufacturing. Importers were most upset that the program was an outgrowth of political dealmaking between the administration and two textile-state senators, Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), to gain their support for Vietnam to become a member of the World Trade Organization.

Since January, the Commerce Department has been tracking apparel imports from Vietnam looking for unfairly priced goods. The agency could self-initiate an antidumping case against the country. Textile producers want the program, arguing that Vietnamese imports threaten their industry now that quotas have been lifted.

U.S. importers are nervous that their costs will rise if the U.S. determines dumping is occurring and imposes antidumping duties on apparel imports from Vietnam.

"[Triet] understands the importance of apparel to his country," Ross said. "He understands that if buyers reduce or cancel orders, that it could have a potential impact in terms of social unrest and damage to their economic growth."

Ross said Liz Claiborne has been "very cautious" in placing new business in Vietnam. "We have limited our growth there and we do business with vendors who have multiple manufacturing facilities in other Asian countries so that if in fact a self-initiated antidumping case takes place, we can move those orders quickly to other Asian countries," he said.

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