WASHINGTON — Apparel and denim companies urged the International Trade Commission Wednesday to lower the amount of African-made denim fabric they are required to use to import their goods duty free to the U.S.

Under the terms of the African Growth & Opportunity Act enacted by Congress, 30 million square meter equivalents of the qualifying denim fabric was determined to be available in the region in the 2007 fiscal year. The companies and organizations recommended in their testimony that the figure be lowered to near 22 million SME for 2008 and 2009.

The Sub-Saharan African region is important to apparel and textiles manufacturers, with its imports for the combined sectors reaching $1.3 billion in the 12 months ended Jan. 31.

Paul Ryberg, president of the African Coalition for Trade, a nonprofit association of African private sector companies and trade associations, testified that denim producers from the countries in the African Growth & Opportunity Act preferential trade program could not meet the denim requirements, which would lead to a loss of duty free eligibility and a loss of business as their customers are forced to look elsewhere for fabric and finishing.

The hearing was part of two investigations launched by the ITC in December to determine the commercial availability of denim fabric and the amount of denim used during the 2007 fiscal year in Sub-Saharan African countries. The investigations are looking into whether the fabric would be available in commercial quantities in 2009. The ITC will report to Congress in July.

Similar testimony on the need to reduce the denim threshold was also given by Chia-Liang Han on behalf of Nien Hsing Textile Co. Ltd., which manufactures denim for VF Corp., Gap Inc., Levi Strauss, Gloria Vanderbilt, Wal-Mart, Target, Jordache, Calvin Klein and DKNY.

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