WASHINGTON — A delegation from Kuwait is scheduled to the meet next week with the U.S.’s Committee on the Implementation of Textile Agreements to discuss the potential setting of quotas for imports from that country.
The meeting comes after an investigation by U.S. Customs Services found what an agency spokesman described as “significant amounts of transshipping” through the Mideastern country. The investigation was made by a Customs jump team that visited 10 factories in Kuwait last November, the spokesman said.
The meeting of Kuwaiti trade officials and CITA is set for Monday and Tuesday, according to an official at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, and industry sources say they expect that a quota will be imposed on textile products. Until now there has been no quota on these imports from Kuwait.
Sources said Customs also is likely to ask the Kuwaiti government to inspect containers coming into the country to make sure they hold fabric or other raw materials instead of finished goods.
Contributing to suspicions of transshipping was a sharp rise in certain imports from Kuwait. Imports of women’s woven cotton blouses from Kuwait totaled 176,000 dozen in the year ended Feb. 28, compared with 35,000 dozen the previous year and only 398 dozen the 12 months before that, according to government figures.
At its peak before the Persian Gulf War, Kuwait exported 26,000 dozen of these blouses to the U.S. in the year ended August 1990, the month Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Shipments of men’s and boys’ woven cotton shirts have shown a more extreme climb. Kuwait exported 642,000 dozen to the U.S. in the year ended Feb. 28, up from 74,000 dozen a year earlier and only 233 dozen the year before that.
By contrast, China, the largest shipper of apparel to the U.S., is allowed to ship only 804,000 dozen men’s and boys’ shirts in that category to the U.S. per year.
The November trip was Customs’ second jump team visit to Kuwait that uncovered evidence of transshipping, the Customs spokesman said. A visit in the summer of 1990 — just before the Iraqi invasion — found no apparel factories at all, despite rising apparel exports to the U.S. The government’s anti-transshipping efforts were then cut short when Iraq invaded Kuwait, he said.
The actual origin of the shirts now pouring into the U.S. is unclear, although Pakistan tops the list of suspects, industry sources said. The U.S. has accused Pakistan of transshipping cotton sheets through Kuwait in previous years, said Clinton Stack, a textile import analyst and president of International Development Systems Inc., Washington.
The quota level imposed on Kuwait will be calculated based on the U.S. estimate of that country’s production capacity, sources said. More negotiations are likely before the level is established.