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Administration Announces Import Control Initiatives

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The Bush administration has announced two initiatives designed to control textile and apparel import surges from China and to crack down on illegal imports from China and other nations. Speaking at the 54th annual meeting of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI), Undersecretary of Commerce For International Trade Grant Aldonas said his department will, within the next few days, publish in the Federal Register specific guidelines for dealing with import surges from China. The guidelines are based on the so-called "safeguard mechanism" in China's World Trade Organization (WTO) accession agreement. Provisions in that agreement permit the United States to impose unilateral quotas on imports if it can be shown that they cause or threaten to cause market disruption.

Last August, ATMI filed a petition with the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA) asking the government to impose quotas on knit fabrics, work gloves, nightwear, brassieres, luggage and filament yarn, where huge import surges occurred after import quotas were removed from those product categories.

CITA had not acted on the ATMI petition, but Aldonas said the new criteria would be applied to the ATMI petition. Importers had charged that ATMI does not have the "standing" necessary to petition the government, but Aldonas indicated ATMI does in fact have the necessary standing. The safeguard provisions require petitioners to provide specific information in support of their claims of market disruption.

CITA will then evaluate the information and if it appears valid, it will seek public comment on the request. CITA will make a determination within 60 days of the comment period as to whether it will seek "consultations" with China. If the consultations do not prove satisfactory, the US will impose unilateral quotas.

In announcing the safeguard mechanism, Aldonas said, "The procedures provide a clear road map for firms, trade associations and workers who believe imports from China are disrupting their markets."

Outgoing ATMI Chairman Van May and the incoming chairman Billie Moore gave the guidelines a guarded endorsement, saying it is a "workable plan," but emphasized that the various steps need to be "expedited."

In a move to find and eliminate illegal textile and apparel imports, Aldonas said the Energy Department's Oak National Laboratory has identified three technologies that may allow for a cost-effective "marker" system to identify the true country of origin of imports that today are often misidentified and circumvent quota controls.

While it will take some time for the government to determine which procedure will be most effective, Aldonas said the proposed marker systems "show promise in the fight against fraudulent imports."

April 2003