WASHINGTON — Friday is looming as showdown day in a struggle that could lead the Clinton administration to slash China’s apparel import quotas 25 to 35 percent.
In an apparent power play to bring China back to the negotiating table over the sensitive issue of transshipments, the U.S. reportedly is getting ready to issue an official directive announcing the quota-cut plan.
Barring a last-minute decision by the Chinese government to resume negotiations on a new bilateral textile pact, sources said, the interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements reportedly will issue a directive in Friday’s Federal Register announcing that the reductions will be imposed soon after publication.
The U.S.-China bilateral textile trade agreement expired Dec. 31, with U.S. demands for safeguards against transshipment of Chinese textiles and apparel being the key controversy.
U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor was tentatively slated to hold a press briefing 11 a.m. today on the China textile bilateral issue. The controversy was discussed Tuesday in a closed-door meeting of the National Economic Council, a group of advisers to the administration, often specializing in trade issues.
Neither Jennifer Hillman, the U.S. chief textile negotiator, nor Rita Hayes, the CITA chairman and the Commerce Department assistant secretary for textiles, returned telephone calls seeking comment. In a recent interview with WWD, however, Hillman said if the impasse continued, the U.S. could cut import quotas on 73 categories of Chinese apparel by 25 percent and eight others by up to 35 percent.
The expected Register notice likely would give the Chinese until a given date to resume talks, or face “what is believed to be a Draconian cut in their import quotas,” a source said.
The U.S., during previous rounds of talks with the Chinese in Beijing and Geneva had proposed that the 25 and 35 percent quota reductions would remain in effect until the U.S. is satisfied China has taken steps to halt illegal apparel transshipping. Hillman said China illegally ships $2 billion worth of garments to the U.S., in addition to $4 billion in bona fide textile trade.
The U.S. also has demanded to cut China’s quotas by three times the amount of goods that are illegally shipped to the U.S. in the future, and send in “jump teams” to make unannounced inspections of Chinese garment factories.
China is the largest supplier of apparel imports to the U.S., accounting for 13 percent of such imports. Its imports are valued for their low cost.