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Textile Association Sees Surge In Chinese Imports

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) says trade data released by the Department of Commerce (DOC) this week show a sharp increase in imports of some apparel products released from quota control last January 1. NCTO says imports of Chinese trousers, underwear and shirts increased by 36 percent in January 2009 over January 2008 in spite of a declining market for those goods in the US market.

Noting that 20,000 textile jobs were lost during the first two months of this year, NCTO President Cass Johnson called on the Obama administration to begin monitoring imports with the thought that the information could lead to anti-dumping or other actions against Chinese imports. NCTO claims it has documented 63 examples of Chinese import subsidies that are in "direct contravention" of China's statement that it would not introduce new "predatory measures."

There are two textile and apparel import monitoring efforts in play at the present time.

Last October, the House Ways and Means Committee directed the International Trade Commission to begin monitoring imports in the 34 product categories that previously had been under quota control in order to determine whether there might be an import surge when the quotas were removed. Johnson says the increasing imports "are a sign of a building surge of subsidized imports."

Meanwhile, Congress, in appropriating funds for the DOC for the remainder of this fiscal year ending in September, called for broader monitoring of all apparel imports from China and Vietnam. A report accompanying the appropriation says: "The International Trade Administration (ITA) is expected to undertake apparel monitoring focusing on prices of imports from China and Vietnam and whether their state-run industries are illegally pricing products and dumping them in the US market." If dumping appears to be happening, the DOC could self-initiate an anti-dumping case.

Another part of the Appropriations Committee report calls on the ITA to implement "pro-active trade enforcement activities including safeguards with respect to China's World Trade Organization accession agreement."

The import monitoring programs are strongly opposed by retailers and other importers of textile and apparel, who contend that the very existence of the programs creates sourcing problems. In a letter sent to the House and Senate leadership when the DOC appropriation for monitoring was pending in Congress, the National Retail Federation, American Apparel and Footwear Association, Retail Industry Leaders Association and the United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel urged Congress not to approve programs that create uncertainty in the marketplace "when consumer prices are increasing and businesses are struggling to make ends meet and keep their workers employed." They also were critical of spending taxpayers' money on what they say are "unnecessary and redundant programs that are inconsistent with US law and international obligations."

If, when and how the Obama administration will act in these areas is up in the air, as the top political appointees at the DOC and the office of the US Trade Representative are not yet in place, and they are not expected to act until they conduct a thorough review of US trade policies. 

March 17, 2009