WASHINGTON — The U.S. and China are “inching closer” to a deal that would regulate Chinese apparel and textile imports, but negotiators have substantive disputes to resolve, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said Tuesday.
“We have many issues still with China,” Portman told reporters after speaking at a forum on Asia sponsored by Target Corp., the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council and The Institute of International Economic Law of Georgetown University Law Center. “I believe we made a reasonable offer a few weeks ago that was not accepted, and we’re still in the process of working through product coverage issues and growth rates, but we are getting closer.”
Characterizing the negotiations as “tough,” Portman said he was not sure whether the two sides would reach an agreement this week. U.S. and Chinese negotiators began a fifth round of textile talks Sunday and negotiations continued into Tuesday evening.
The Bush administration’s top trade official said he discussed the current round of textile talks with his counterpart, China Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai, Monday night, an indication the talks have the attention and involvement of high-level officials.
President Bush is to make an official visit to China starting Nov. 19 and many trade experts believe the two sides could be seeking to complete an accord by then.
Meanwhile, a U.S. Commerce Department spokeswoman said an interagency government committee would wait until today before announcing whether it would impose safeguard quotas on five pending petitions, including socks, swimwear, nightwear and pajamas, skirts and women’s and girls’ woven shirts. The announcement had been set for Tuesday but was delayed because of the talks.
The U.S. and China have held several rounds of bargaining in an effort to curb soaring textile and apparel imports from China. The negotiations appeared to break down in mid-October over growth rates, but trade officials surprisingly resumed bargaining here Sunday.
Those familiar with the talks have said negotiators are considering a deal that would run through 2008 and cover 32 to 34 product categories, with annual growth rates of 10 to 16 percent. However, those details could change.
U.S. import and textile executives are traditionally on opposite sides of trade issues. but have generally reached a consensus on the need for a long-term pact to replace the system of safeguard quotas that leaves uncertainty in the trade arena for both sectors. The U.S. has safeguard quotas on $1.9 billion worth of Chinese imports that limit annual growth to 7.5 percent.
On the broader trade front, Portman told the audience of academics and industry executives the U.S. will continue to engage China constructively and work toward correcting the trade imbalance by monitoring intellectual property rights violations and enforcement in China, seeking to complete a textile deal to curb surging imports and monitoring currency reform.
Portman also commended Asian countries, particularly South Korea and China, for taking a more active role in the current round of World Trade Organization talks that are heading into a crucial ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December.
On the bilateral front, the USTR said he hopes to launch free-trade talks with South Korea before the end of the year and noted that the U.S. is considering free trade deals with Malaysia and Indonesia.