By  on January 7, 1994

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor made it official Thursday: The U.S. will slash China's apparel import quotas by 25 to 35 percent on Jan. 17 unless a new bilateral textile pact, including safeguards against transshipping, is completed by then.

The action will cut quotas on 73 categories of Chinese apparel by 25 percent and another eight categories by 35 percent. It will affect mainly sweaters, knit shirts, cotton trousers and shop towels. Details will be published Monday in the Federal Register.

U.S. trade officials have been threatening such a move since talks for a new pact broke down last month. The old bilateral with China, the largest supplier of apparel imports to the U.S., expired Dec. 31.

At a press conference Thursday, Kantor said the quota reduction would cause the value of Chinese apparel imports into the U.S. to drop from about $4.7 billion in 1993 to about $3.5 billion this year.

He contended the action would have little if any effect on consumer prices for apparel, an argument that was vigorously contested by officials of retailers and importer groups.

"American consumers," Kantor said, "will be fully able to buy quality products made in the U.S. by U.S. workers, or in some cases, made in other countries."

Charging that China annually ships $2 billion worth of apparel into the U.S. illegally by circumventing quotas, Kantor said: "Clearly, textile transshipment damages our workers and industry and violates China's international commitments."

He added said that in four negotiating sessions held over nine months China refused to accept provisions accepted by 16 other nations to halt transshipping.

The provisions against transshipping permit the U.S. to cut a country's textile quota by three times the amount of goods shipped illegally and also send inspectors unannounced to apparel plants to determine whether they are capable of producing clothing for export at certain levels.

A senior U.S. trade official who briefed reporters after Kantor's presentation, however, acknowledged that some other U.S. trading partners, such as Pakistan, India, Thailand and Singapore, have -- like China -- so far refused to accept the anti-transshipping provisions.

The bilateral with China would also maintain the 25 to 35 percent cuts in quotas until the U.S. is satisfied that China is making progress in stemming transshipments.

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