WASHINGTON — The U.S. will delay — perhaps until May — enforcing its first-ever quota on imports of Chinese silk apparel.

Rita Hayes, the Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel, said the earlier proposed date of March 1 to begin enforcing the quotas was scrapped as unpractical.

The U.S. and China agreed last month to a new, three-year bilateral pact governing textile and apparel trade and included for the first time an agreement to control shipments of Chinese silk garments. The limits upset importers and retailers, since virtually no silk garments are made in the U.S.

The accord sets the overall silk apparel quota at 321.1 million square meters equivalent, equaling 1993 import levels. One percent quota growth rates are set for these silk imports in 1995 and 1996. In addition, specific limits are placed on imports of Chinese-made women’s woven blouses and men’s woven shirts, categories 741 and 740, respectively. It has yet to be resolved whether goods imported prior to the effective date in 1994 will be counted against the quota.

“It is not the intention of the government to impede trade, and we understand it is difficult to establish visa requirements by March 1,” said Hayes, who also is chairman of the interagency Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements.

Hayes said the effective date for requiring import visas, used to control trade under quotas, “will be April 15 or May,” adding, “This will be left up to the Chinese — when they feel they can effectively implement this.”

Meanwhile, Hayes explained that the U.S. initiated the proposal to limit silk imports.

“Anybody familiar with the textile industry and who looked at the high rates of silk imports would see something was going to be done sooner or later,” she said. “The price had gone down drastically for silk products to the point they were competing with non-silk products.”

WIth the aim of explaining CITA’s move on silk, Hayes last week met with officials of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, who asked for a delay in implementing the quotas’ effective date.

Julia K. Hughes, the USA-ITA chairman, as well as an Associated Merchandising Corp. vice president, said she “is pleased Ms. Hayes recognizes the commercial implications of the new silk quotas and understands the necessity for delaying” their effective date. The association had sought a July 1 effective date.

U.S. and Chinese trade officials are slated to meet here Thursday and Friday to discuss the silk quotas’ effective date.

“Even if the two governments reach a total agreement on how to administer the silk quota, there is no way this can be published and made known by March 1,” Hughes said.

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