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Congressional Committee Seeks Information On China Trade

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The House Ways and Means Committee has made a formal request for the International Trade Commission (ITC) to investigate and provide information on Chinese textile and apparel imports, a move that could lead to new import quotas when the current quotas expire.

In a letter to ITC Chairman Shara (sic) L. Aranoff, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., expressed his concern over the possibility of a market-disrupting surge of Chinese imports when quotas are removed, and he called on the commission to conduct an investigation and provide the committee with statistical reports on the volume, overall value, unit value and market share of certain textile and apparel products from China. He asked for the first report by December 1. In addition, he said, to the extent practicable, the commission should provide the committee with preliminary Customs data once every two weeks and publish that data on its website.

Rangel’s letter noted that textile and apparel imports from China increased dramatically beginning on Jan. 1, 2005, following the termination of import restrictions under the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Textiles and Clothing. “That import surge,” he said, “injured businesses’ workers and communities in the United States and in other countries, particularly the poorer developing nations.” As a result of that surge, the United States and China agreed on safeguard quotas covering 34 sensitive product categories of textiles and apparel. Those safeguard quotas expire December 31.

“Like many textile and apparel producers and workers in the United States and in other countries, and like many other members of Congress, I am concerned that a market disrupting surge in textile and apparel imports from China could occur when the textile and apparel quotas expire — just as occurred on the expiration of the clothing and textile agreement just four years ago,” Rangel said.

He said his committee is acting now because the Bush administration “does not appear to be taking these concerns seriously.”

In a statement released along with the letter, Rangel said, “Monitoring Chinese textile and apparel imports will help provide the committee with timely, accurate information to assess whether Chinese imports are causing or threatening to cause market disruption in the United States and other countries.” If market disruption is found, the committee has the authority to initiate an investigation that could result in restrictions on Chinese trade, including quotas or tariffs, or both.

The committee’s action received a strong and enthusiastic endorsement from nine major business and labor organizations representing the textile industry, which have launched a major effort to get a monitoring program.
Seventeen international textile and apparel associations have sent letters to  the US Secretary of Commerce and US Trade Representative and the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees. Although quotas or other actions would be confined to US imports, they feel a surge of Chinese trade would displace their products in the US market and undercut preferential trade agreements such as the North America Free Trade Agreement, the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement and the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Not everyone is excited about the committee’s action. Kevin M. Burke,  president and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, issued a statement saying that while the monitoring program may not necessarily lead to any “protectionist actions,” its existence does create apprehensions that action may be taken in the near future. He expressed his concern that not knowing what will happen next creates uncertainty in the market “at a time when predictability is more important than ever.”

October 14, 2008