Let me see if I have this straight. Chinese manufacturers have exploited loopholes in the U.S.-China WTO accession agreement to literally flood our market with cheap knit shirts, pajamas and underwear.
At the same time, Chinese government officials have thrown up phony fiber quality regulations and proposed sham biotech rules that could allow them to circumvent WTO agreements to purchase U.S. cotton and grain.
So now that the Bush administration has said it will enforce safeguard provisions — which China accepted in the WTO accession agreement — the Chinese government says it intends to raise tariff duties on U.S. exports? Give me a break.
Since the United States dropped its opposition to China's entry into the World Trade Organization, Chinese textile and apparel imports in categories that were no longer under quota have grown from 9 percent to 53 percent of the U.S. market. That happened in less than two years.
But shortly after the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements approved safeguard petitions in three categories of clothing, the Chinese government said it was canceling trade missions to buy U.S. cotton and wheat. More retaliatory actions were threatened.
“I'm shocked and the Chinese people have been surprised and shocked,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told the Washington Post following the CITA decision announcement. “This unilateral action, involving products worth $400 million to $500 million and without any prior discussion with the Chinese government, seriously wounded the feelings of the Chinese people.”
As trade experts have come to expect in dealings with the Chinese, Wen was being disingenuous. The three safeguard categories account for about $500 million of China's exports so far in 2003. But China's total textile and apparel exports have reached $10.65 billion through September.
The latter could pale in comparison with the figures when the remaining quotas on Chinese textile and apparel quotas expire in 2005.
The day before Thanksgiving, Chinese officials said they found a fungus in a soybean shipment from the United States. Trade experts tried to downplay the development, saying the fungus was common to soybeans grown in the United States and China.
But some were concerned the Chinese would use the discovery as an excuse to stop unloading U.S. soybeans as they have done on other occasions.
Analysts also noted that Chinese buyers moved to the sidelines when the U.S. government announced it would enforce the WTO safeguard provisions and waited until New York cotton futures dropped to 67 cents per pound. Then they started buying cotton that would have cost them 75 to 80 cents a few days earlier.
A trade expert said recently that China has become famous for signing agreements and then negotiating them as they are implemented. As long as China can make up the rules as it suits them, no manufacturing job is safe in this country.
U.S. officials are finally waking up to the threat posed by the Chinese. Let's hope it's not too late for what's left of the U.S. textile industry.