By  on July 7, 2005

MONTREAL — Canada's main apparel workers union is lobbying the government to follow the lead of the U.S. and European Union and take steps to limit the growth of surging apparel imports from China.

The union, UNITE HERE Canada, wants the Canadian International Trade Tribunal to review the impact that soaring Chinese imports are having on the domestic industry, noting that apparel imports from China have increased 40 percent in the first four months of this year compared with the same period a year ago. In some categories, UNITE HERE said imports are up more than 200 percent.

Employment in the industry in Canada has also declined to 55,000 in April from 70,000 in January 2004.

The U.S. has imposed safeguard quotas, a mechanism China agreed to when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, that limits China's growth of exports to 7.5 percent annually on a range of apparel and textile categories. The EU reached an agreement with China to limit growth to 8.5 to 12 percent on a host of products through 2007.

If the trade tribunal agrees with the union, the Canadian government will face making a final decision on whether to impose safeguards. UNITE HERE has the support of 19 clothing manufacturers, including suit maker Samuelsohn Ltd., based here.

But the Ottawa-based Canadian Apparel Federation, which represents apparel manufacturers, said that rather than introduce tariffs, Ottawa should eliminate levies on textile imports to help domestic manufacturers cut costs. Imposing quotas on Chinese clothing alone will merely force manufacturers to import clothing from other low-cost countries that don't face similar restrictions, the federation said. All WTO member countries eliminated apparel and textile quotas this year.

"Our complaint is valid, but we'll see how Ottawa reacts, given it's a union filing the complaint and not an industry group or company," Lina Aristeo, Quebec director of UNITE HERE. "But if Ottawa doesn't do something, it will only get worse."

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