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US, Vietnam Textile Bilateral Trade Talks Break Down

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The United States and Vietnam have failed to reach agreement on a bilateral agreement that would limit the growth of textile and apparel imports. When the US normalized trade with Vietnam in December 2001 by granting it Normal Trade Relations (Ntr) status, tariff rates on garments from Vietnam dropped from an average of 90 percent to 17 percent.

As a result, this past year, imports of apparel have grown by more than 1,000 percent, and the American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) estimates that apparel imports are increasing at a rate of 50 million square meters every month. The latest 12-month data show that Vietnamese imports of apparel amounted to 315 billion square meter equivalents. Fabric and yarn imports are insignificant, as they were virtually zero before Ntr, but they, too, are rising rapidly.

Ever since trade was normalized with Vietnam, US textile manufacturers have been pressing the Bush administration to negotiate a bilateral textile agreement. That has run into strong opposition from major apparel importers, including Dress Barn, Eddie Bauer, Gap, J.C. Penney, Sears and Target. They say the ability to place apparel manufacturing orders in Vietnam is "an essential hedge against an expected tight supply situation in 2004" as a result of quota restrictions on imports from other countries. They contend that imports from Vietnam are replacing business from other Asian nations and are not displacing manufacturing in the United States. 

March 2003