US textile manufacturers to petition Bush government for quotas on China exports

Officers from the six largest trade associations representing the US textile and fiber industry met on June 10 and unanimously approved an aggressive, coordinated lobbying campaign designed to restrict imports from China, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) said.

The institute said the initial goal of the campaign is to persuade the US government to implement the special textile safeguard against China in an early and effective way to moderate the surge of Chinese exports.

At the meeting, the organizations agreed to work together to submit new safeguard petitions to the government in short order.

The six associations released a report showing that unless the government acts, China will gain control of between 65 and 75 pct of the US apparel market once quotas on Chinese imports are removed on January 1, 2005 and will destroy the US textile and apparel industry.

“The US government’s lack of follow through on its commitments concerning textile trade policy has thrown the US textile, fiber and apparel industry and its nearly one mln workers into a life or death struggle,” said Billy Moore, ATMI chairman.

The lobbying effort will also concentrate on preventing Chinese goods from unfairly taking advantage of regional free-trade agreements now being negotiated, in particular the proposed US-Central American agreement.

The associations agreed to work against the inclusion of exceptions, called tariff preference levels (TPLs), that allow Chinese and other Asian textile exports to enter the region duty-free. The inclusion of TPLs would undercut more than five bln usd in US textile exports with Central America and threaten tens of thousands of US jobs.

For the year to March 2003 China’s textile and apparel exports to the US have surged 140 pct, the biggest increase in history. During the same period, the US textile industry closed over fifty plants and more than 40,000 workers lost their jobs.

The associations attributed the surge to huge increases in Chinese exports of gloves, bras and 29 other items that were removed from quota controls last January.

An official with the China National Textile Industry Council told XFN some of the charges the US textile manufacturers are laying on Chinese textile manufacturers are groundless. For example, none of ATMI members produce gloves.

The official, who asked not to be named, said so far this year, the US International Trade Commission has endorsed two petitions, which were subsequently vetoed by the White House.

“However, it is hard to tell this time, because the Bush administration will be confronted by the full might of a powerful industry lobby as it gears up for an election year,” the official said.

He said if the petition is endorsed, China will have to keep its textile exports to no more than 7.5 pct of the total exports in the first 12 months of the past 14 months, in accordance with the WTO commitments.

“But we advise the US authority to think twice before taking any action, as the restriction will not only impact Chinese exporters but also American importers and retailers,” the official said.

He said the US can hardly compete with China because, after all, China has some comparative advantages, including big production scale and inexpensive labor costs.

“The best thing that the US can do is to redirect its textile industry to manufacture technology-intensive products that China is unable to make currently, just as what the EU is doing,” he added.