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Importers Seek To Block New Textile Monitoring

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Retailers and other importers of textiles and apparel are mounting an effort to eliminate language in a major appropriations bill working its way through Congress that would direct the Department of Commerce (DOC) to monitor all apparel imports from China and Vietnam. If approved by the Senate and enacted into law, the new program would direct the DOC to "undertake apparel import monitoring, focusing on prices of imports from China and Vietnam and whether their state-run industries are illegally pricing products and dumping in the US market." The measure, part of an omnibus appropriations bill providing funding for government agencies through the remainder of fiscal year 2009, already has passed the House.

In a letter to the leadership of both the House and Senate, a coalition of US importers of textiles and apparel has expressed its "strong concern" over the measure, calling it "an unwarranted program that would be inconsistent with US law and international obligations and harmful to the already fragile economy." During the past two years, the DOC monitored imports from Vietnam, and there was no evidence of dumping. However, importers say the existence of the monitoring has a chilling effort on overseas sourcing.

Last October, the House Ways and Means Committee instructed the US International Trade Commission to begin monitoring imports of apparel from China in 34 product categories that had been under "safeguard restraints." Quotas were removed from those products as of Dec. 31, 2008, and the committee is concerned that there might be a surge of imports in those categories that are considered to be particularly sensitive. The importers say it is inappropriate for Congress to "revisit this issue and  require a different and duplicative process."

The coalition's letter said that "at a time when consumer prices are increasing and businesses are struggling to make ends meet and keep their workers employed, we urge Congress not to erect programs that create more uncertainty in the marketplace and spend valuable taxpayer resources on unnecessary and redundant programs."

Laura E. Jones, executive director of the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said US textile producers concerned that imports may be dumped or subsidized can use existing trade remedy laws. She charged that monitoring is simply designed to put pressure on the Obama administration to initiate an investigation "based on politics rather than facts."

March 3, 2009