By  on February 7, 1994

NEW YORK -- It didn't take long.

On Friday morning, little more than half a day after President Clinton lifted the 19-year old embargo on U.S.-Vietnam trade, apparel manufacturers, textile producers and retailers were already beginning to eye that country as a source of product and business -- but only if it gets Most Favored Nation status.

"The lifting of the embargo is going to have a very positive impact on our business only if and when Vietnam is granted MFN," said Wally Singer, chairman and chief executive officer of Pacific Silk & Clothing Co., here. Pacific imports about 12.5 million apparel items per year, including woven shirts, jackets and bottoms, blended silk knits and 100 percent silk knits. "With the help of our partners in Hong Kong, we are beginning to look at building some knit facilities in Vietnam once there is MFN," Singer said. "That's in addition to our plan to move more of our production to China."

Richard Vetack, president of Cone Mills' textile products group, said since the company is taking an "international initiative when it comes to doing business, Vietnam will have to be part of our consideration, as the whole Pacific Rim is of interest to us."

Vetack cautioned, however, that Cone's interest is only preliminary, and that the company hasn't formulated any specific plans. However, he did say, "MFN is important to any business venture there."

J.C. Penney Co. said it may get into the act in Vietnam. A spokeswoman declined to specify the extent of Penney's interest or what types of items it may look for, but: "We see it as an opportunity to do some sourcing."

"Lifting the embargo doesn't mean a thing without MFN," said Benard Holtzman, president and chief designer of Harve Benard Ltd., a manufacturer of rtw and men's tailored clothing, noting that there's still a 90 percent duty on some apparel items. "Once MFN is granted, then we'll begin to seriously investigate our options there. Until then, there's no sense in talking about it."

At least one apparel manufacturer, though, said MFN may not be all that crucial. Andrew Postal, president of Judy Bond, said that prices, even with the heavy tariffs, might still be low enough to be attractive to U.S. traders, as Vietnamese factories push for a piece of the U.S. market.

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