WASHINGTON — U.S. trade officials notified Cambodia on Tuesday that it will increase by 12 percent the amount of quota-controlled apparel it will be allowed to ship to the U.S. next year.
The increase was tied to U.S. officials deciding Cambodia has improved its worker standards this year. Under a U.S textile agreement with Cambodia, imports could have been increased up to 18 percent.
U.S. apparel importers, while glad the increase was granted, said it comes too late.
"By now, people will have placed their 2003 orders," said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade with the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel.
Hughes noted that growth in Cambodian apparel imports into the U.S. has been in non-quota apparel, like cotton nightwear and pajamas. Although Cambodia supplies just 2.4 percent of all apparel imported into the U.S., it’s the largest supplier of cotton nightwear and pajamas with almost 16 percent of the import market, according to Commerce Department statistics.
The domestic textile industry also criticized U.S. officials on Cambodia, but for granting any increase, and questioned how worker conditions there were measured.
"It’s one of the great snooker jobs of all time," said Charles Bremer, director of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
Cambodia’s apparel pact with the U.S. is unique because it ties labor standards to greater U.S. market access, instead of automatic increases, and was seen as a potential model for future pacts.
Cambodia’s textile agreement, negotiated in 1999 by the Clinton administration, expires at the end of 2004. Last year, Cambodia was granted a 9 percent increase out of a potential 14 percent gain. About half of the apparel categories shipped to the U.S. from Cambodia are restricted by quota. Cambodia has never been granted the full quota increase.
Jim Leonard, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Textiles & Apparel at Commerce, said federal officials from agencies comprising the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements weighed various reports about the country’s labor market before increasing the quota limit.
"The feeling among CITA members is Cambodia is making progress," said Leonard. "We weren’t prepared to [award] the full amount because they have a long way to go yet."Leonard declined to say whether the Bush administration would include a labor standard test in a Vietnam apparel-limiting pact. Negotiations with Vietnam should start in the next couple of months, Leonard noted.
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