CUSTOMS EMBARGOES PAKISTANI SHIPMENTS
Byline: Kristi Ellis
WASHINGTON — U.S. importers and Pakistani exporters are up in arms over the U.S. Customs Service’s apparent detainment, due to embargoes, of what one source said is about 300 containers of Pakistani textile and apparel imports.
U.S. retail buyers, importers and Pakistani manufacturers claim they were given assurances from officials at the U.S. State and Commerce Departments that they could continue to ship products this year, even though many quota categories were rapidly filling.
“Back in late September and early October, the administration contacted importers and retailers and asked companies to keep their business in Pakistan and not to pull it out despite the obvious concerns over disruption due to the war on terrorism,” said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “At that time, they were given assurances that there would be some special flexibility so that companies could ship  goods early, even though quotas are in place.”
However, Customs has now seized the shipments and refuses to release them, claiming importers will have to wait until the new quota period, on Jan. 1, according to many importers.
Janet Labuda, director of Customs textiles and enforcement operations division, refused to discuss specifics about the number of detained containers, but did admit that some containers with embargoed products could be detained at U.S. ports.
“There are probably some goods put in that situation, but how much I don’t know,” she said.
Four Pakistani import categories have reached their quota limits and have been placed under embargo, according to Donald Foote, director of the Agreements division at the Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel. Embargoes have been placed on cotton and manmade pajamas, cotton pillowcases, cotton terry towels and manmade fiber sheets, Foote said.
In addition, three more quota categories are close to filling, including men’s cotton knit shirts, cotton sheets and manmade fiber pillowcases.
Pakistani leaders are pressing for U.S. textile and apparel trade breaks as part of a $1 billion aid package promised by President Bush. Pakistani government officials have requested, among other things, a 10 percent carryforward of quota, according to Foote.
The Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements traditionally makes decisions on carryforward (which means borrowing from next year’s quota limits in order to ship more this year) requests, but in this case, it is an administrative decision, according to Foote.
The detainment couldn’t come at a worse time for Pakistan. The U.S. for months has delayed making a decision on Pakistan’s request for textile relief in exchange for its help in the campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Additionally, the Pakistani apparel and textile industry representatives claim the industry has lost 70 percent of its 2002 orders, which are normally placed at the end of the year. Pakistan exported $1.9 billion in textiles and apparel to the U.S. for the month ending September, according to Commerce.
In November, the Bush Administration’s bid to drop or reduce Pakistani apparel and textile imports got a boost with the introduction of a bill in the Senate by Sen. Sam Brownback (R., Kansas) that would give him the authority.
But the bill, which drew fire from textile-state lawmakers that the White House was courting to vote for trade promotion authority, was moved to the back burner until Congress voted on TPA. The House just narrowly passed TPA and it is unclear whether Congress will now take up the Pakistani legislation.
To many, the detainment is an insult, though most don’t want to “kick up the dust,” as one source said, with such an important trade-concession package looming.
“We were expecting such shipments would normally be accommodated as carryforward,” said one source close to the matter, who requested anonymity. “We asked for it [carryforward] and we were given an understanding [that it was OK to ship],” the source said.