WASHINGTON — The government’s Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements approved a China quota safeguard petition on socks Friday, as pressure on China to curb a wide range of apparel and textile imports continued to mount.
The approval means the U.S. will cap import growth on man-made fiber and cotton socks at 7.5 percent for a year and impose a 6 percent cap on imports of wool socks from China, which agreed to the safeguard mechanism as part of its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2002.
“I hope it is clear to everyone that this administration, when presented with a strong, factual case, does not hesitate to enforce our trade laws,” said Jim Jochum, assistant secretary for the import administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The sock safeguard petition is the fourth the administration has approved. Last December, the U.S. imposed one-year safeguard quotas on imports of bras, dressing gowns and robes, and knit fabric.
“They all have had strong factual underpinnings and allowed us to make a decision beyond dispute in terms of the faces we see before us,” Jochum said.
The quotas will not be imposed on the three sock import categories until the date the U.S. requests consultations with China, and Jochum said he expects the U.S. to make the request in the “short to near future.” All WTO countries are dropping textile and apparel quotas next year, unless categories are put under safeguard quotas based on market disruption caused by import surges.
The Hosiery Association, the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, the National Council of Textile Organizations and the National Textile Association filed the safeguard petition on three categories of socks at the end of June, seeking the Bush administration’s help in restraining imports from China, claiming they have damaged domestic manufacturers and disrupted the market.
“We’re extremely pleased with this move,” said Charles Cole, chairman of the Domestic Manufacturing Committee of THA. “We feel like it will be a big help in diverting a travesty within our industry.”
Jochum pointed to “dramatic” surges in imports from China in the aggregate, which increased 4,200 percent from 2001 to 2003, while dollar value rose from $8.8 million in 2001 to $170 million in 2003. This represents a “significant drop” in the average unit value on a dozen pair of socks from China, which fell from $11.54 in 2001 to $5.11 in 2003, and a significant drop in U.S. producers’ share of the American sock market, from 83 percent in 2001 to 68 percent in 2003.
Imports of socks from China have skyrocketed from fewer than 1 million dozen pairs in 2001 to 22 million dozen pairs in 2003 and to 42 million dozen pairs in the past 12 months ended Aug. 31, according to the coalition that filed the petition. Domestic sock production fell from 207 million dozen pairs in 2001 to 166 million dozen pairs in 2003.
It is the first time the U.S. has approved a safeguard petition on a product — cotton socks — that is still under quota and many industry groups speculated whether Friday’s decision would set a precedent for a spate of safeguard petitions recently filed by an U.S. textile and apparel coalition.