By and  on February 12, 2002

NEW YORK -- In the high-stakes game of international trade, the U.S. has often used the textile and apparel industry, and, specifically, concessions on opening its markets to imports, as a key negotiating chip.

This has been evident in the political maneuvering since Sept. 11, with the Bush administration making the war on terrorism and the military campaign in Afghanistan the top priority in international relations and using textiles and apparel as a trump card. Many of the nations who have cooperated with the U.S. -- most notably Pakistan, but also Turkey and Bangladesh -- have lined up to seek concessions on textile and apparel exports here in a quid pro quo for wartime alliances.

Pakistan, in particular, has made textiles a high priority, saying that its trade with the U.S. has been put in jeopardy by the military campaign, with buyers reluctant to commit future orders out of fear that shipments will be disrupted.

To many, the reason these industries are so often the talk of trade parleys is obvious: Garment manufacturing is one of the first industries in which a developing nation can make its mark and can be a key way for nations to earn the foreign currency they need to buy the high tech luxuries that are a part of everyday life in the First World.

But much more contentious is the question of whether the U.S.'s moves to open its markets to imports amounts to pounding a stake into the heart of an industry or simply facing economic reality.

Over the past few months, as industry heavyweights such as Burlington Industries and Malden Mills have fallen into bankruptcy, and stalwarts like Guilford Mills and Dan River have cut hundreds of workers from their payrolls in an effort to return to profitability, that question has become more urgent.

When it filed for bankruptcy in November, Greensboro, N.C.-based Burlington pointed its finger squarely at the government, claiming that Washington had not done enough to ensure fair trade.

"Imports have been growing for many years, but since 1999, the volume of imported apparel has grown at five times the rate of consumption, squeezing out U.S.-made products," chairman and chief executive officer George Henderson said at the time. "This flood of textile and apparel imports includes not only products subsidized by foreign governments, but billions of dollars of goods that are imported illegally. Our government, with the exception of support from elected officials in our region, has made no effective response to these unfair trade practices."

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