NEW YORK — Last year was another bleak one for the U.S. textile industry, according to the American Textile Manufacturers Institute’s Year-End Economic Report, which was released Monday.

This story first appeared in the January 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Sales and employment in the industry were down, though the sector as a whole managed to improve its profit picture, something the ATMI contended happened “as financially weak mills were closed, less productive operations were shut down and payrolls were trimmed.”

The overall industry recorded aftertax profits of $700 million, up 75 percent from $400 million a year earlier. Still, with net sales for the year slipping 3.1 percent to $47 billion, that made for a slim 1.5 percent profit margin.

The ATMI blamed the continuing growth of Chinese exports for much of the U.S. industry’s losses and again called for the Bush administration to impose quota restraints on Chinese imports.

“We need a government that is as aggressive on behalf of our workers as China is on behalf of its workers,” said ATMI president James Chesnutt, who also serves as president and chief executive officer of Washington, N.C.-based National Spinning Co.

Noting that negotiations began Monday between the U.S. and China regarding the imposition of safeguard quotas on three categories of merchandise, Chesnutt said: “If China refuses to negotiate, then China must be held under quota restraint using the ‘threat of serious damage’ clause in its WTO accession agreement. Six hundred fifty thousand U.S. textile and apparel jobs, along with more than 30 million textile and apparel jobs around the world, will be lost if China is not held under quota control.”

Many market observers believe that when the nations of the World Trade Organization drop their quotas on apparel and textiles in 2005, China’s market share will grow substantially.

Meanwhile, the ATMI report noted that the amount of cotton fiber consumed by U.S. mills dropped 9.9 percent last year, to 4.1 billion pounds.

Textile industry employment fell 10.5 percent, to 428,000. The average workweek for employees dropped 3.9 percent to 39.1 hours, contributing to a 1.5 percent drop in the average employee’s weekly earnings to $469.41.