WASHINGTON — U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators will meet in San Francisco next week and could iron out details on a long-term agreement to limit textile and apparel imports that have been flooding the U.S. market since global quotas were dropped at the beginning of the year.
U.S. trade officials said the meetings, which will take place Tuesday and Wednesday, stem from a formal consultation process initiated in May when the U.S. imposed safeguard quotas on $1.31 billion worth of Chinese apparel and textile imports, and won’t necessarily lead to a fast deal.
“We have had [and continue to have] substantive discussions with the domestic textile and apparel industries and members of Congress on whether there is interest in a broader textile agreement with China, and our approach to the consultations [next week] will reflect the outcome of those discussions,” said a spokesman with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “Whether or not any of this is brought up during those consultations in San Francisco is dependent on the discussions we are having now with [the] industry and Congress. That is the stage we are in. The next stage would be discussions with the Chinese, but that depends on what happens this week.”
The USTR spokesman acknowledged the Chinese are “certainly aware we are considering a broader textile agreement.”
David Spooner, special textile negotiator at USTR, and Jim Leonard, deputy assistant secretary of apparel and textiles at the Commerce Department, will lead the discussions with their Chinese counterparts in San Francisco.
U.S. trade officials have not hinted at the scope of any deal they might be considering, but the European Union’s comprehensive agreement struck with China in June — allowing for 8 to 12.5 percent growth each year on 10 import categories through 2007 — could be a natural starting point.
There is no question where Chinese officials, U.S. importers and domestic textile manufacturers stand on a broader textile agreement: All are pushing to replace the current process of reviewing individual safeguard quotas with a more encompassing agreement that would offer more predictability for all sides.
But there are vast differences on how the deal should look. Under the current safeguards, goods are capped at a 7.5 percent growth rate annually and are renewable through the end of 2008.
Textile producers are generally seeking a deal that would at least last through the end of 2008 and cover all categories where petitions have been filed. In addition, they are pushing to reserve the right to invoke individual safeguards on products that are not covered by the broad agreement but begin to surge into the U.S. market.
Importers, on the other hand, could press for higher growth rates, a shorter or equal time frame and higher quota levels for several apparel products currently under embargo.
The Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, which is chaired by Commerce, announced Aug.1 it was deferring until the end of the month several decisions on import restrictions, including such products as cotton and man-made fiber bras and sweaters totaling $957.7 million, in order to consult with Congress and the industry on a multiyear import agreement with China.