By  on December 2, 2004

WASHINGTON — The battle over curbing Chinese imports reached a new level Wednesday when the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel sued five government agencies to stop further review of China safeguard petitions based on the threat of market disruption.

The USA-ITA suit, filed in the U.S. Court of International Trade in Manhattan, seeks an injunction to block the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements from considering seven safeguard petitions it accepted for review and put the brakes on new petitions. The group is seeking to halt CITA from accepting threat-based petitions or those involving products under quota without publishing new rules, interpretations and/or policies. CITA wants to invalidate the government’s current rules allowing threat-based petitions.

CITA, a federal interagency group, is accepting requests based on “anecdotal bits and pieces of information,” in violation of importers’ due process rights under the Administrative Procedures Act, USA-ITA said in a statement.

“Unless the court stops this unfair process, USA-ITA members will be forced to make irreversible decisions and take irreversible actions, at incalculable cost, to reduce their exposure to the risk of an embargo created by the imposition of highly restrictive, illegal safeguard measures and to ensure that they have merchandise to sell,” Laura Jones, executive director of the USA-ITA, said in the statement.

The government has 10 days to respond to the complaint.

“The language negotiated in China’s WTO Accession Agreement is clear that a petitioner may file a request for safeguard action based on market disruption or threat of market disruption,’’ a Commerce Department spokeswoman said in a statement. “The procedures CITA uses in deciding whether to consider a safeguard request do not preclude threat petitions. The government has ample authority under U.S. law to take the safeguard actions requested by the petitioners.”

CITA, chaired by the Commerce Department and also consisting of senior officials from the State, Labor and Treasury Departments, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, is responsible for considering the China textile safeguard petitions and implementing U.S. textile trade policy.

At the center of the debate is the safeguard mechanism China agreed to when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. The safeguards are essentially temporary quotas that an importing nation may impose on certain Chinese goods if it determines they are severely injuring domestic industries. They can be imposed for one year at a time through 2008, when the provision expires.

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