WASHINGTON — Negotiators wrapped up two days of trade talks in Beijing Thursday, but offered no signs of progress, prompting U.S. textile groups to declare it a “collapse.”
David Spooner, the head U.S. negotiator, said safeguards holding Chinese apparel and textile imports to 7.5 percent annual growth would continue to be applied “as appropriate” and gave no indication of when another round of talks would be held.
“Our overall goal, as we’ve said all along, is to reach a longer-term solution that will permit greater stability in textile and apparel trade,” Spooner, who is special textile negotiator in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, said in a statement.
Currently $1.9 billion worth of Chinese imports covered under nine safeguard petitions are being restricted, with about 10 other petitions coming up for decision by the end of November. Domestic producers have pushed for the safeguards, saying they cannot compete with imports that are unfairly subsidized by a number of Chinese government policies, including an undervalued currency.
Placing the scope and heft of the talks into stark relief, Commerce Department figures released Thursday showed China further solidified its hold on the apparel and textile import market with a 47.3 percent jump for August to 1.7 billion square meter equivalents, worth $2.34 billion.
“China returned to its position of delay and no compromise by insisting on terms for an agreement that were impossible for the U.S. government to accept and that would have been extremely damaging to the U.S. industry and its workers,” Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, said in a statement. At least 31 U.S. textile mills have been shuttered since a broader system of quotas was phased out in January.
Stephen Lamar, senior vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, an importing group that has opposed restrictions on China, said, “We would like to see them complete the talks and get an agreement.”
In general, importers have pushed for a deal since safeguards can be applied unpredictably and wreak havoc on sourcing plans. However, they also are beginning to envision life with safeguards through 2008.
Peter McGrath, chairman of purchasing for J.C. Penney Purchasing Corp., said China might implement a system to control how goods leave the country, creating a more predictable environment for U.S. importers and Chinese factories even if safeguards remain in place.
“If the Chinese put that in play, then the level of comfort to the U.S. importer goes up quite a bit,” said McGrath. “It appears the Chinese are now moving toward a visa system.”
Many of the importers are in “wait and see” mode when it comes to the talks for a broader deal, said McGrath.
“I’m not sure at this point whether the Chinese are that motivated anymore,” he said. “The Chinese and the U.S. are both tough negotiators. The U.S. is very used to getting its way and may not have the degree of leverage that it has had in the past.”
Expectations were high going into Beijing, as progress at the previous round of talks, held in Washington late last month, gave the sense that a deal was within reach.
The two sides are still stuck on what kinds of goods would be included in a deal, how much imports of those goods would be allowed to grow and when an agreement would end, said trade specialists from both the importing and domestic manufacturing communities.
Held back somewhat by safeguard-induced embargoes, China still scored significant import increases in August in areas such as scarves, vests and coveralls, cotton nightwear and man-made fiber sweaters for women and girls.
But China isn’t the only winner in the post-quota world.
Pakistan’s apparel and textile imports shot up by 22 percent to 302.8 million SME, worth $275 million; India’s imports grew by 18.5 percent to 209 million SME, worth $396.6 million, and Bangladesh mustered a 24.3 percent upswing to 123 million SME, worth $242.4 million.
Losing ground in August were South Korea, down 14 percent to 180.7 million SME, worth $186.5 million; Canada, down 14 percent to 261.6 SME, worth $249.5 million, and Mexico, slipping 5.9 percent to 341.7 million SME, worth $663.4 million.