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Washington Outlook Archive
James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Chinese Export Increase Causes Concern

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

A sharp increase in China’s textile and apparel exports to the United States is causing major concerns in Washington, Geneva and the capitals of a number of other textile trading countries. While U.S. imports of textiles and apparel from all sources were up by 8.7 percent in the first half of this year, imports from China rose by 87 percent, including a whopping 119 percent in textiles alone. China bypassed Canada as the number-two supplier of textiles and apparel, and if the present trend continues, it will overtake number-one, Mexico, by the end of the year.

The sharp increase is linked to China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) last January 1, when in one fell swoop, it was permitted to “catch up” on the first seven years of a 10-year quota phase-out that other members of the WTO enjoyed. Much of the six-month export growth was in seven recently decontrolled product categories — knit fabric, luggage, infantswear, gloves, brassieres, gowns and robes, and table linens. The growth was at the expense of exports by Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Taiwan and other countries.

In view of the sharp increase, ATMI fired off an urgent request to the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA) to impose special import quotas on the seven categories where the increases have occurred. Temporary quotas are authorized under the U.S.-China textile agreement if imports threaten to cause market disruption. ATMI stated “[I]t is now time for CITA to act expeditiously … in order to prevent further damage to an already beleaguered U.S. domestic sector.”

If CITA agrees with the market disruption claim, it can issue a “call” and announce that it intends to impose import quotas. China likely will not agree, and the issue will have to be negotiated. In view of the number of countries being affected by the import surge, the United States will not be standing alone in this case.

ATMI, OSHA Enter Safety And Health Alliance
ATMI and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have entered into an alliance to promote safe and healthful working conditions. Industry officials hope the alliance will lead to more of a voluntary approach to dealing with workplace injury and health issues.

The alliance is part of an industry-wide program initiated by OSHA to determine how well voluntary efforts can work. Under the program, OSHA and ATMI will provide textile companies with information and guidance on how to identify and address problems. Joint teams will meet regularly to develop plans and evaluate the program.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health John Henshaw said, “This alliance helps demonstrate that safety and health add value to the workplace and to the individual worker, and it is a commitment to cooperative efforts.”

While industry associations are enthusiastic about the alliance program, Eric Fruman, health and safety director for the textile union UNITE, is less than excited. He says voluntary efforts by companies and their trade associations “are a good thing,” but he believes OSHA should be devoting its resources to “closing gaps” in its regulation of such things as ergonomics and chemical hazards in the workplace.

Textile Companies Have Problems With Air Regulations
A coalition of textile and carpet manufacturers has filed strongly critical comments with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding a proposed toxic air-emission regulation and are calling for a meeting to discuss problems. The Textile and Carpet Coalition says the proposed Maximum Achievable Control Technology standard “significantly and unreasonably impacts certain operations in the industry,” and it cites the need for a number of changes in the final regulation.

Among other things, the coalition says the proposed regulation makes erroneous assumptions regarding emissions from various dyeing processes. It also fails to provide appropriate control options that would enable companies to comply with the standard without changing their raw materials or altering their finished products. The group warns that some companies making specialty products for the military and firefighters may have to cease operations.

Industry, Government Working On Design Piracy Issue
High-level U.S. government officials appear to be responding to a long-standing textile industry request to find some way to crack down on overseas manufacturers that knock off their designs. U.S. textile manufacturers contend violations of their intellectual property rights are costing them millions of dollars each year.

The Board of Directors of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) has passed a resolution urging the government to assist in “rigorous enforcement” of U.S. copyright laws and to eliminate illegal importation, sale and distribution of copyrighted fabrics. The newly formed National Textile Association, Boston, representing fabric manufacturers, has met with government officials and is urging them to act promptly on the problem.

James C. Leonard, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for textiles, apparel and consumer goods, told Textile World he is “pushing hard” with the Commerce Department, Customs Service and other agencies to see what can be accomplished. Commerce Secretary Don Evans reportedly has taken a personal interest in the issue. The problem is that no one at this time knows what can be done in an international trading world where piracy is a popular practice with a number of other products in addition to textiles.

October 2002