WASHINGTON — A group of 100 textile chief executives converged on Capitol Hill Wednesday to pressure lawmakers to restrain Chinese trade and preserve U.S. jobs, while the Bush administration said it will review a petition alleging that imported socks from China severely hurt U.S. manufacturers.
There will be a 30-day public comment period for the socks petition, followed by a 60-day investigation.
China, which controls 22 percent of the U.S. apparel and import market, is at the center of controversy in an election year focused on American job losses. The textile and apparel industries have lost 344,000 jobs since President George W. Bush took office in January 2001.
In the largest lobbying effort by a unified textile industry in more than 15 years, executives met with 48 House and Senate offices from more than 25 states. Their message was clear: Reassess the elimination of global textile quotas, and prevent China from eviscerating textile and apparel industries at home and abroad.
“The phaseout of the quotas starting on Jan. 1, 2005, will have a devastating effect, and job losses around the world could be as high as 30 million,” Alan Gant, president of Glen Raven Inc. and chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations, said during a news conference. “We are about raising that flag as an issue…and saying if this is not the right course of action, then have the courage and strength to back up and say excuse [me], but we are about to have a very big train wreck and let’s make sure we know exactly what we are doing.’”
A coalition of 91 international and U.S. textile and apparel associations got a boost in their drive to open a global dialogue on the elimination of quotas when the government of Mauritius made the first formal request for an emergency meeting of the World Trade Organization on Monday.
In the meantime, the textile ceo’s urged lawmakers and the Bush administration to accept safeguard actions against China, as allowed under WTO rules, on the basis of “threat” of market disruption. The administration has refused to consider safeguard actions before it has trade and domestic production data as evidence to support allegations of market disruption.
A Commerce Department spokesman said: “U.S. trade specialists would advise any industry to bring a case based on hard evidence that could withstand a challenge in an international court of trade law.”
The interagency Committee for Implementation of Textile Agreements approved three of four petitions last year, placing quotas on knit fabric, dressing gowns and robes and bras, and limiting the growth in each to 7.5 percent for a year. The textile coalition said it plans to file an unspecified number of safeguard petitions against China this year before the quotas are lifted on critical apparel import items, which many expect China to dominate next year.
“Obviously, we need a policy decision from the administration to enforce the threat component of the existing safeguard,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, in an interview after the press conference. “They’ve clearly demonstrated a willingness to use the safeguard based on market disruption, but if we aren’t able to trigger a system based on threat, not only will tens of thousands of jobs be lost in the U.S., but clearly throughout the developing world, as China consumes massive chunks of U.S. market share.”