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Chinese textile imports soar in January

WASHINGTON – China doubled its textile and apparel exports to the United States in January compared to January a year ago, according to the U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel.

Shipments in some categories of clothing jumped more than 1,000 percent over the same month in 2004 as Chinese manufacturers took advantage of the Jan. 1 expiration of textile import quotas to bring more goods into the United States.

“These numbers confirm our fears that China would flood the U.S. textile and apparel market once quotas were removed,” said John Emrich, CEO of textile manufacturer Guilford Industries. “When we made our predictions; the retailers claimed we were exaggerating. But you can see now that our concerns were justified.”

Speaking at a press conference held by textile and fiber trade associations and union officials, Emrich said the January numbers make it “more important than ever” the federal government self-initiate the safeguard provisions that China agreed to in its WTO accession agreement.

January shipments of cotton trousers – men’s and boy’s from China rose 989.63 percent while those of cotton trousers – women’s and girls’ climbed 1081.29 percent, the U.S. Office of Textile and Apparel said. Cotton shirts – women’s and girls’ were up 522.68 percent.

But official Chinese export numbers indicate its shipments of cotton knit shirts to the United States could be up by more than 1,800 percent and cotton trousers up by 1,300 percent from January 2004 to January 2005.

“The flood of Chinese shipments following the Jan. 1 lifting of textile and apparel quotas comes as no surprise,” said National Cotton Council Chairman Woods Eastland, who noted that cotton use by U.S. textile mills continues to decline.

“That surge is evidenced by China Customs data which shows that China shipped almost 26.7 million pairs of cotton trousers to the United States, a 1,332 percent increase over January 2004. That’s larger than total U.S. imports of cotton trousers from China for all of 2004.”

Other textile industry leaders, speaking at the press conference, said textile and apparel job losses accelerated with more than 12,000 jobs lost in the combined sector in January. At least seven textile plants have closed thus far in 2005 as China’s exports have continued to rise.

Those losses are only the beginning, however, unless the U.S. government moves to implement the WTO safeguard provisions soon, said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Committee.

“This surge of imports from China is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “If history is any indication, Chinese imports will continue to soar until they gain a virtual monopoly of the U.S. market. If the U.S. government fails to act immediately to implement the WTO safeguard, it will be an act of reckless disregard of the available evidence, costing hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs as a consequence.”

Although China promised it would raise exports taxes on shipments of textile and apparel goods in January, textile manufacturers said Chinese manufacturers dropped their prices an average of 22 percent compared to prices a year ago.

They noted that imports from China in the categories where the U.S. textile industry filed threat-based safeguard petitions last fall were up substantially. Overall imports in those categories rose from the equivalent of 45 million square meters of fabric to 89 million square meters.

Last November, trade organizations such as AMTAC and the National Coalition of Textile Organizations filed requests for WTO safeguard provisions based on the threat of a surge in Chinese exports once quotas were removed Jan. 1. But the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel asked the Court of International Trade for an injunction barring the Commerce Department’s Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements from considering the safeguard petitions. A judge granted the request in December.

In January, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman said the government would file an appeal of the ruling. The National Textile Association, a group representing manufacturers, asked the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements to self-initiate safeguard provisions last fall. But the CITA declined, saying the industry had the option of filing threat-based cases.

“Well, now the court has stopped consideration of our threat cases, and threat has become reality,” said Karl Spilhaus, president of the National Textile Association. “Given these import numbers, CITA needs to act swiftly on the only effective option.” “This is all preventable,” said Emrich, referring to the potential loss of jobs in the United States from continued increases in Chinese imports. “Only the U.S. government can self-initiate the safeguard provisions in a timely enough manner to protect the U.S. textile industry.”

If new safeguard provisions are implemented, the growth of Chinese textile and apparel shipments would be limited to 7.5 above their shipments in the first 12 months of the most recent 14 months.

Asked if it wouldn’t be prudent to wait a month to make sure the numbers are on target, Cass Johnson, president of the National Coalition of Textile Organizations, said every day safeguard provisions are delayed will cost the U.S. textile industry more jobs. “If we have to wait for industry petitions to go through the process, we won’t have safeguards until September,” said Johnson. “We now have Chinese data, U.S. data, European data – the evidence is irrefutable – it is time for the U.S. government to act quickly and save our workers’ jobs.”

“The use of safeguards is completely consistent with and a part of China’s WTO accession agreement,” said the Cotton Council’s Eastland. These data clearly demonstrate the importance having a system that allows for the early monitoring of U.S. trade data as well as a resolve by the U.S. government to make full and timely use of safeguard provisions.”

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