USTR Wants Deal With China, Won’t Give Up on Safeguards

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman wants to cut an apparel and textile import deal with China, but won't sign away the right to counter import surges.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman wants to cut an apparel and textile import deal with China, but won’t sign away the right to counter import surges.

“The United States is absolutely going to walk away from a bad deal,” Portman said during a briefing with reporters on Thursday. “We are not going to give away our ability under the [World Trade Organization] accession [agreement] with China to be able to exercise the safeguards when there’s a surge.”

American and Chinese negotiators wrapped up a fourth round of talks in Beijing last week without reaching a deal, but another meeting will be scheduled.

“I’m optimistic about a comprehensive agreement with China because it makes sense for China and for the United States,” Portman said.

A deal that produces a predictable level of Chinese apparel and textile imports is desired because it would simplify business plans for importers, retailers and domestic manufacturers.

The Bush administration has acted on nine safeguard petitions, restricting $1.9 billion worth of Chinese imports to 7.5 percent growth for the rest of this year. Safeguards can be renewed through 2008. A decision on four more petitions has been delayed until Oct. 1.

China has pushed for a deal that ends in 2007 and allows for significantly higher growth levels than safeguards, while the U.S. wants a deal to lock in lower growth levels that last through 2008.

The negotiations, however, are just part of the U.S. trade agenda. Portman is also trying to build momentum in the WTO for a December meeting in Hong Kong that is supposed to work out how the Doha Round of global trade talks can be brought to a successful conclusion by the end of 2006. The Doha Round, aimed at further liberalizing international commerce, including reducing global tariffs, has been stalled since 2003.

“It has the potential of improving the lives of Americans and others in the developed world substantially,” Portman said.

Studies show the elimination of global trade barriers could lift 300 million to 500 million people out of poverty worldwide over the next 15 years and boost annual incomes of a typical U.S. family by $7,800.

This story first appeared in the September 9, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.