Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — U.S. textile negotiators are scheduled to travel to Macedonia early this month to discuss its request for elimination of all its American apparel quotas.
The meetings are set for Sept. 6-7 in Skopje and will be followed by a stop Sept. 9-10 in Bucharest for consultations with Romanian trade officials who have been asking since spring for an increase in that country’s wool apparel quotas, said Donald Johnson, the U.S. chief negotiator.
Johnson, who also is the U.S. textile ambassador, said the talks with the Macedonians will focus on that nation’s request that the U.S. lift all quotas on its apparel shipments here, which mainly comprise men’s and boys’ and women’s and girls’ wool suit jackets, wool suits and trousers.
The Macedonian government in spring requested this action, contending it is necessary to help that nation’s economy recover from the ravages of war in nearby Yugoslavia. An estimated 250,000 residents of Yugoslavia’s Kosovo province fled into Macedonia in the wake of reports of mass “ethnic cleansing” by Yugoslav forces prior to and during the NATO air campaign.
Although no military actions were staged in Macedonia, its economy was severely disrupted by the conflict and the sudden influx of the refugees.
There was no official U.S. response to Macedonia’s quota abatement request, and in May, Johnson said the U.S. “has made it clear to all countries that we’re really not in a position to accommodate most of their requests” for quota elimination.
At the same time Stuart Eizenstat, a State Department undersecretary, who now is Deputy Treasury Secretary, told WWD that some importers said Macedonia’s relatively small quotas were hampering their efforts to source from that country. Eizenstat said State and the U.S. Trade Representatives “are examining the issue.”
In late June, Hillary Rodham Clinton, during a visit to Macedonia, expressed concern for the country’s apparel industry and announced that Liz Claiborne would donate all components for more than 200,000 men’s and women’s tops and bottoms, to be assembled in Macedonia and distributed to refugees there.
Johnson, during an interview last week, said the U.S. remains adverse to granting quota eliminations or increase requests outright, noting that in recent talks with Egypt and Turkey, these nations made concessions for adjustments to their quotas.
Troy Cribb, the Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for textiles, apparel and consumer goods, who also chairs the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, said Romania is seeking a significant hike in its U.S. wool apparel quotas, but would not elaborate.
Sources reported Romania also is seeking creation of a special trade preference that would give duty breaks and “unlimited” quotas to apparel made there using U.S. fabrics cut and assembled in Romania. Sources said U.S. labor unions opposed this provision, which has been dubbed the 809 Program, unless the U.S. cuts wool fabric import duties.
The U.S. and Romania held the first round of such talks here during April, and none has been held with the Macedonians on the quota abatement request. Historically, nations seeking U.S. textile concessions meet here first. Cribb said the tentative decision to conduct the first round in Macedonia and continue talks with the Romanians in their country was not related to the First Lady’s spring trip to the region, or other political considerations.
“These countries would like us to come there to see their front line of the war; they want us to see firsthand how their economies have been impacted,” Cribb said, adding that while no NATO military action occurred in Romania, “Danube River bridges were blown up and so transportation was significantly impacted” in Romania.
Both Romania and Macedonia are considered relatively minor apparel suppliers to the U.S. market, shipping 24.3 million square meters equivalent and 17 million SME, respectively, for the 12 months ended in June. However, for various categories of men’s and women’s wool apparel, these countries often will rank anywhere from the U.S.’s number 10, to 20, in any given month, according to Commerce Department trade data.