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Administrations Textile Trade Efforts Criticized

Washinigton Outlook

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Administration's Textile Trade Efforts CriticizedThe US Commerce Departments second report to Congress on its efforts to address the textile industrys trade problems has run into a barrage of criticism from domestic manufacturers. Comments from textile industry lobbyists ranged from ineffective to an absolute failure.In order to address the textile industrys international trade problems and their impact on the economy and jobs, the Commerce Department created a number of Textile Working Groups last year to address various issues and make policy recommendations. The second in a series of status reports was sent to the Congressional Textile Caucus on October 15.Citing lack of movement on key issues, Cass Johnson, interim president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI), said the report was short on accomplishments and long on promises. Auggie Tantillo of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition said the report clearly highlights that the administration has taken almost no substantive actions to change its flawed trade policies and help the US textile and apparel industry.The working group report said that while some progress has been made, it is clear, in the light of the critical situation currently facing our industry, further actions and vigilance are warranted. The 22-page report cited some accomplishments in the recently negotiated bi-lateral trade agreements, market access and illegal transshipments, and noted that the administration had held firm against efforts to liberalize existing trade agreements. It said the administration continues to place high priority on measures to create a level playing field and create a healthy, competitive economic environment for the textile industry. James C. Leonard, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for textiles, apparel and consumer goods, admitted that the accomplishments were fairly small, but added that they are positive.Most of the specific accomplishments were in the area of negotiating trade agreements where the working group said the United States had negotiated tough country-of-origin rules in the Singapore and Chile free trade agreements. It said it had imposed quotas on an array of textile and apparel products in the recently concluded Vietnam agreement, and included a provision to roll back quotas if it is shown that third country products were used in calculating agreed upon quota levels. The report said the United States continues to pursue reciprocal market access in connection with any new agreements.The report cited stepped up efforts by the US Customs Service to combat entry of illegal textile and apparel products. It noted that in 2003, Customs seized $160 million of wearing apparel smuggled in from China and stopped another $518 million in trade from Hong Kong.Reflecting just how difficult it is going to be to get other countries to open their markets, the report talks about investigations and discussions, but little progress with countries such as India, Indonesia, China, Egypt and Pakistan, whose markets are closed or strictly limited. It said discussions are being held with the European Union commission to address possible cooperative efforts on a number of trade issues.Despite all of the accomplishments and efforts cited by the working group, textile industry officials noted that 105,600 jobs have been lost since the September 2002 report, and the industry is plagued with plant closings and bankruptcies, as imports from low-wage countries continue to grow. ATMIs Johnson said that in view of the administrations shortfalls, textile lobbying organizations will embark on a grass roots political action campaign including a national voter registration day, a voted education program and a textile industry scorecard for office holders and candidates.By James A. Morrrissey, Washington Correspondent October 2003