By  on August 18, 2005

WASHINGTON — A broad agreement regulating U.S. apparel imports from China appeared closer late Wednesday as the two countries worked to hammer out a deal.

The head U.S. negotiator, David Spooner, said in a conference call with reporters from the talks in San Francisco that if the final session on Tuesday didn't lead to an agreement, the two sides would likely be back at the bargaining table later this month, probably in China.

One of the stickier details to be worked out was how much growth an accord would allow, though Spooner said whatever percentage is ultimately agreed on would be based on a recent 12-month period.

"We're both in the same ballpark, the talks are going well," said Spooner, who is special textile negotiator with the U.S. Trade Representative's office. "We will set up a future meeting today if we do not come to an agreement. I expect it will happen very quickly. There's a desire on both of our parts to move fairly quickly to closure."

All of the parties that would be effected — from U.S. textile firms and importers to retailers and Chinese producers — have pushed for a pact that would bring an end to the uncertainty of the current regimen of safeguard quotas.

The Bush administration imposed safeguards on $1.31 billion in Chinese imports in May to protect domestic firms from import increases in excess of 1,000 percent for some goods. Products in most of the categories under safeguard have been embargoed until next year.

The floodgates were opened when the countries of the World Trade Organization dropped the system of quotas that regulated global trade in January. But China's entry agreement into the WTO allowed for the safeguards. Apparel and textile imports from China shot up 46.6 percent to 7.9 billion square meter equivalents, or $10.8 billion worth, during the first half.

The Bush administration deferred a final decision on six outstanding safeguard petitions until Aug. 31. Safeguards restrict goods to annual growth of 7.5 percent and can be renewed through 2008. Domestic textile concerns are pushing for an agreement that allows for limited growth over a broad range of goods, while importers and retailers are looking for higher growth levels.

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