By  on January 25, 2005

NEW YORK — Chinese manufacturers are boosting production with the lifting of apparel and textile quotas among World Trade Organization members this month, although some worry about the continued restrictions their exports will face.

A contingent of 41 Chinese textile and apparel manufacturers made this point while exhibiting at the Chinabrand trade show, which wrapped up its four-day run Sunday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here.

Pan Pingli, foreign trade department manager with Lu Thai Textile Co., said his company had added 2,000 employees at its headquarters in Zibo in Shandong province. The fabric maker is expanding into the shirt business, with the goal of offering full-package garment production services. The firm now employs 10,000 people and produces 3.8 million yards of fabric a year.

“We’re still building up that operation,” Pan said, referring to the shirt business, which it launched early this month.

The company plans to sell its shirts under the Lt Grff brand, reflecting a drive by China’s government to urge its manufacturers to diversify their operations beyond contract production for foreign-owned brands.

Liang Shuhe, vice director general for the department of foreign trade at China’s Ministry of Commerce, said the show’s mission was to boost Chinese brand names.

“Through years of global competition, China has learned the importance of name brands,” he said. “The U.S. is our partner of choice for carrying out the name-brand exportation strategy.”

He said developing brands would give Chinese exports a tool other than price on which to compete. Many manufacturers elsewhere in the world, particularly in the West, complained loudly in the run-up to the Jan. 1 expiration of quotas that they’d be unable to compete with Chinese makers’ low prices.

“Consumers in the U.S. and [European Union] are interested in design and technology…more than the price of a product,” Liang said. “This is where Chinese enterprises lack strength.”

Among the apparel makers at the show, which featured producers of everything from small all-terrain vehicles to hinges, many said their export business still leaned heavily toward contract production for Western brands.

Han Lei, manager of Lanyan Group Co., a maker of denim fabric and jeans also based in Zibo, said his company, which employs 8,000, exports most of its production. It produces 65 million yards of denim and 10 million pairs of jeans a year. The bulk of its export sales are goods made under contract for major U.S. brands, not under its own label.

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