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Asian Imports Continue To Hurt U.S. Textile Industry

The U.S. textile industry continues to be hit hard by the flood of low-cost textile goods into this country from financially troubled Asian countries, according to recently released figures by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Textile and apparel imports during the first quarter of 1999 reached a record level for the period. At 6.6 billion sme (square meters equivalent), textile and apparel imports were 9.7-percent higher than they were in the first quarter of 1998, the report said.

Textile imports, at 3.3 billion sme, were 7.7-percent higher than they were for the same period in 1998, while apparel imports rose 11.8 percent to also reach 3.3 billion sme.

“The effects of the Asian economic crisis and the strength of the U.S. dollar in an ocean of devalued Asian currencies are clearly reflected in the most recent Commerce data,” said American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) President Doug Ellis, chairman and CEO of Southern Mills Inc., Atlanta.

“It is apparent that these countries are trying to export their way out of their current troubles and that the United States is their target market. There is no other way to explain a 24-percent increase in textile and apparel imports from Taiwan, a 33-percent gain from South Korea, or increases of 20 percent and 33 percent from the Philippines and Malaysia,” he added.

Ellis said that it was disturbing that the import surge from Asia was not only impacting the United States, but it was also hurting some of the United States’ biggest export customers.

“While Asian nations increased their percentage share of our total apparel imports during the first quarter, the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) nations, which are the largest market for our exports of U.S.-cut fabric pieces, saw their share of our apparel imports decline," he said.

"In other words, Asia's gain was the CBI's loss. This shows why it is so important for Congress to swiftly pass the Senate's version of a NAFTA parity bill for the CBI. We need to restore our neighbors' competitive advantage."

The Commerce Department also reported that textile and apparel exports, continuing a trend of several months' standing, continued to decline during the first quarter.

Textile exports of $2.2 billion were 5.8-percent below first quarter 1998, and apparel exports of $2 billion, which consist mainly of cut fabric pieces ready for offshore assembly, were 1.7-percent below the same period last year.

"Needless to say, our exports to Asia have plummeted since their currencies were devalued," Ellis said.

"But we have nearly made this decline up with an increase in our exports to Mexico and the CBI. Now it is up to Congress to allow us to recoup it all by passing legislation that will significantly increase our exports to the CBI."

July 1999