WASHINGTON — The next wave of China safeguard petitions has begun.

Four U.S. textile industry groups — the National Council of Textile Organizations, American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, National Textile Association and SEAMS — along with the union UNITE HERE, jointly filed a petition Friday seeking to impose new quota limits against imports of women’s and men’s cotton trousers from China, which were valued at $280.2 million last year.

The groups have said they plan to soon file petitions against as many as 20 apparel and textile import categories valued at more than $2 billion last year in advance of the Jan. 1 end of the quota regime for World Trade Organization members.

Auggie Tantillo, executive director of AMTAC, said, “There are a number of very strong cases and cotton trousers was simply one that represents a very important segment of the U.S. industry, as well as a very important segment of the U.S. fabric and yarn industry.”

Cass Johnson, president of NCTO, said trousers is a “bread-and-butter” category for the U.S. textile industry where “there is a substantial amount of U.S. apparel production left,” Johnson said. “Once China is uncontrolled, it will move quickly to dominate this category.”

A spokeswoman with the U.S. Department of Commerce said, “The administration will consider these petitions case by case. When the U.S. industry presents solid evidence of market disruption or threat of market disruption, we will enforce our trade laws on their behalf.”

The interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements has 15 business days to review the petition and determine whether it meets the merits for a full review. The threat-based petitions intensify the pressure on the White House during the final run to the Nov. 2 election and force the Bush administration to weigh domestic manufacturing concerns against import interests and the potential of straining diplomatic ties with China.

Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, said, “This is one of the weakest cases they have to prove any kind of threat from Chinese shipments today. Imports from China in this combined category over the last 12 months are down 39 percent” while they have been under quota.

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