GENEVA — U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said here Friday that the Bush administration is considering whether it will enter into formal negotiations with China on a broad pact to restrain growth in imports similar to the one reached in June between the European Union and China.
The China-EU accord set limited growth in Chinese textiles and apparel exports in 10 sensitive categories to between 8 and 12.5 percent annually until the end of 2007. A 7.5 percent annual growth cap is permitted under the World Trade Organization special China textile safeguards. The safeguard stipulation runs through 2008.
Asked whether the U.S. would seek a pact allowing imports to exceed the 7.5 percent restriction, Portman said: "We're still discussing that internally, whether we would enter into formal negotiations, as the EU did, to attempt to achieve that number, whatever it might be. The time period, of course, is another important variable, and we just have not made those decisions yet."
Portman, who was in Geneva to take stock of the stalled global trade talks and give some momentum from the U.S. side, said the administration is continuing to talk with the Chinese on the future of the textile safeguards. The Bush administration has already had two rounds of consultations with China, Portman noted.
He said the safeguards taken together, and the potential safeguards being reviewed or under petition, "amount to about 1.5 percent of total trade with China and only about 15 percent of our textile trade with China ... a very healthy and robust trading relationship," with a trade deficit approaching $200 billion a year.
The U.S. trade deficit with China reached a record $162 billion last year.
Portman said the surges in imports from China in percentage terms have been "even higher" than those experienced by the EU. He recalled that the U.S. has had increases of as much as 1,500 percent in certain categories.
With regard to the troubled Doha talks, Portman said a successful round "is extremely important not just for the United States, but again, for the global economy and particularly for the developing world."
The discussions are aimed at lowering barriers to the international flow of goods — including textiles, apparel, footwear and services — worth almost $11 trillion a year.
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