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US Textile Makers Press Quota Issue

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

US textile leaders believe there is a best a 50-50 chance the United States and China will be able to agree on a comprehensive approach to textile and apparel import quotas, so they are pushing ahead aggressively with a series of new petitions to place temporary quotas on imports. Last week, the textile industry's three leading lobbying organizations and the labor union UNITE-HERE petitioned the US government to renew for another year quotas on 16 product categories worth some $3.4 billion that are due to expire at the end of this year. They also said they will continue to file petitions on additional product categories. The advantage of applying for quotas at this time is, that if approved, quotas would extend through 2006. Products covered by the roll-over petitions include cotton knit shirts, woven shirts, cotton trousers, brassieres, underwear, man-made fiber knit shirts and man-made fiber trousers. In addition to those products, more than 20 other product categories are in various stages of consideration.

As the new petitions were announced, the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel (USAITA) quickly responded, saying the filing of new textile safeguard requests is unwarranted and useless. Charging that more import quotas will have a negative impact on the economy, USAITA Executive Director Laura Jones said: "With department stores and others reporting flat sales at best in August, even before Hurricane Katrina hit, and consumers so wary about spending now that oil and gas prices are so high, clearly it is not the time to be throwing further uncertainty into the economy." She said the fact that the safeguards have been in place for several months has done nothing to help the US textile industry.

At a Washington news conference announcing their petition to have the quotas renewed, the industry/labor lobbying groups said China has refused to negotiate in good faith on a comprehensive agreement during two rounds of talks that have taken place recently in San Francisco and Beijing, and the use of short-term safeguard petitions is part of a determined effort to bring about a comprehensive agreement. Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said that while the group is re-filing nine petitions, it intends to file additional safeguard petitions covering many more products in the very near future. He said the US government to date has been very responsive to the industry's efforts to utilize safeguard petitions.

Looking beyond immediate considerations, the textile lobbyists said the current efforts are part of much larger international effort to prevent China and maybe one or two other nations from dominating world textile trade when the right to use the safeguard mechanism expires in 2008. They want that authority extended beyond that date.

September 2005