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Washington Outlook Archive

US-China Textile Trade Talks Bogged Down

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

As a second round of negotiations failed to reach a US/China comprehensive agreement on textile and apparel imports, the US government is continuing to consider and approve petitions to limit imports using the safeguard mechanism China agreed to as a condition or its admission to the World Trade Organization. On August 31, the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA) added two more product categories brassieres and man-made filament fabric to the list of some 30 product categories where the safeguard mechanism is being used. Decisions on four other cases covering sweaters, dressing gowns, wool trousers and knit fabric were delayed until October 31.

The US government in July imposed quotas on cotton trousers, cotton knit shirts and underwear, and an embargo already has been placed on those products for the remainder of this year as the quotas were quickly filled. If additional quotas are approved, they would extend only to the end of this year, and the textile industry would have to submit new applications demonstrating market disruption. In the case of petitions decided upon after October 31, the quotas would be in effect for a full calendar year if the petitions are approved.

While the safeguard mechanism has restrained some imports and likely will do it for more, US textile manufactures would like to have a comprehensive import limitation agreement through 2008. Importers of textiles and apparel, while opposed in general to import quotas, would if necessary like to see an agreement that would result in some certainty in the marketplace.

The US and Chinese governments continue to be interested in reaching agreement on a comprehensive bilateral agreement. Following the second round of unsuccessful negotiations, Special Textile Negotiator David Spooner said he is consulting with the Chinese on a date and place to resume the talks and he remains optimistic that progress can be made toward resolving remaining issues.

After the talks broke down, textile importers called for renewal of the negotiations while cautioning that the United States should proceed cautiously and not agree to quotas that would not necessarily bring production back to the United States. In a statement following the collapse of the talks, Laura E. Jones, executive director of the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said: "We are extremely concerned by reports that the United States presented a proposal in Beijing that was even more restrictive than what the US side presented during negotiations in San Francisco earlier this month. If the United States really wants an agreement, it should be moving toward a compromise, not in the opposite direction." She said any agreement should reflect the interests of the United States and whole including importers, retailers and consumers, as well as textile manufacturers.

When the talks were broken off, the major textile and apparel manufacturers trade associations praised the US negotiators for taking a strong stance on behalf of the domestic industry. Karl Spilhaus, president of the National Textile Association, said the industry is united in its belief that no agreement is better than a bad agreement. Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, said that in view of the failure to reach a comprehensive agreement, the US industry will continue to be aggressive and shortly will be filing additional safeguard petitions.

September 2005