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Textile action first step to safeguard

Members of a textile and apparel coalition applauded the Bush administration's decision to approve its petition to implement the textile safeguard provisions of China's WTO accession agreement on three categories of clothing.

But some members of the coalition said the approval is just “the first step” in the long process of preventing sweatshop textile and apparel manufacturers in China and other foreign countries from totally decimating the U.S. textile industry.

“We are on the verge of a catastrophe,” said Mark Levinson of Unite, an umbrella group for the labor unions representing U.S. textile workers. “When textile import quotas expire, as they are scheduled to do in 2005, we will see textile manufacturing plant closings on a massive scale.

“The administration must sit down with China and other countries and address these issues before we lose this entire industry.”

The decision by the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements to approve the safeguard petitions was denounced by organizations like the National Retail Federation, which said it would harm consumers.

But textile and apparel coalition leaders dismissed the criticism saying the consumers who were losing their jobs to massive imports of cheaply made foreign products were the ones who were truly being hurt.

“The people who have lost their jobs to the flood of Chinese imports into this country aren't worried about paying 50 cents more for a pack of t-shirts at Wal-Mart,” said Auggie Tantillo, Washington coordinator for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.

Three categories

The Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreement decision dealt with petitions filed by AMTAC on only three categories of Chinese imports — knit fabric, brassieres and dressing gowns. The three represent only a small portion of the more than $10 billion in textile and apparel products China has shipped to the United States this year.

The approval triggers a consultation process with the Chinese over the next few months. If no agreement on limiting imports can be reached, the United States may limit the level of shipments from China to a level no lower than 7.5 percent above the amount entered during the first 12 months of the most recent 14 months preceding the request for consultations.

Speaking at a press conference after the Commerce Department announcement, Tantillo said the U.S. textile industry must keep up the pressure on the administration to act quickly to address the Chinese import situation.

“We have 12 months between now and when our elected officials go and face the people,” he said. “If we are going to get relief, we're going to have to get it in the next 12 months.”

National Cotton Council leaders joined in the applause for the CITA approval, although some reports said China had threatened to buy fewer bales of U.S. cotton after the announcement of the decision by the U.S. Commerce Department.

“The NCC joined with other fiber and textile organizations to encourage implementation of the China safeguards because cotton products on which quotas have been removed are among the fastest growing import categories,” the council said in a statement.

More for less

“Of the 29 categories for which quotas were removed at the end of 2001, eight were cotton-containing products. During the first 12 months following the lifting of quotas, China's exports of those eight product categories into the U.S. increased an average of 640 percent, while the average price was slashed 71 percent.”

NCC Chairman Bobby Greene expressed the U.S. cotton industry's appreciation for yesterday's decision to Commerce Department Under Secretary for International Trade Administration Grant Aldonas during a meeting with him in Miami.

“This safeguard action is intended to get China to fully comply with its WTO obligations,” the Alabama cotton ginner said. “China has flooded the U.S. market with cotton textiles and been unwilling to implement regulations that provide consistent, predictable and transparent market access for U.S. agricultural products, including cotton.”

NCC Vice President Stephen Felker, CEO of Avondale Mills in Georgia, commended CITA for this decision — one he says will greatly assist the U.S. textile sector.

“Jobs are at risk because the level of Chinese imports is excessive, disruptive and clearly in violation of the levels permitted in China's WTO agreement,” Felker said.

Felker echoed the comments of Unite's Levinson that the CITA approval was only a first step and that textile workers will face substantial risk of additional job losses in January 2005 when all textile quotas are lifted.

Sets precedent

“This action, though, will set the stage for similar action then by the United States if necessary,” he noted.

“The successful safeguard action is a resounding victory for grassroots political activism,” said Steve Dobbins, CEO of Carolina Mills and chairman of the American Yarn Spinners Association. “Companies educated their employees about the importance of trade policy, and they wrote letters and made phone calls.

“The coalition will stay mobilized as long as it takes to stabilize the industry.”

Cotton Council officials also credited the help of Congress, noting that 139 Representatives and 26 Senators signed letters — and several Senators and Representatives sent separate letters — urging the administration to invoke the special textile China safeguard provision included in China's WTO accession agreement.

“These petitions would never have been approved without the help of our friends on Capitol Hill,” said Gaylon Booker, a former NCC president who is working with the council on trade issues.

“The coalition would especially like to thank U.S. Representatives Howard Coble, John Spratt, Virgil Goode and Bill Pascrell, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings, and all the Members of Congress who sent letters to President Bush and the administration urging implementation of the China safeguard. This strong, bipartisan coalition really helped push the safeguard petitions over the goal line.”

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