US textile and apparel makers on Friday called for action by Washington to stem Chinese imports, saying US industries are being devastated by the lifting of quotas earlier this year.
US industry groups were joined by union organizations in the call for Washington to implement a so-called safeguard mechanism under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules to limit growth in Chinese textile and apparel imports.
"The threat has become reality," said Cass Johnson, president of the National Coalition of Textile Organizations (NCTO).
"This surge of imports from China is just the tip of the iceberg. If history is any indication, Chinese imports will continue to soar until they gain a virtual monopoly of the US market," said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC).
US officials were noncommital about a move under WTO rules but said the trend was a matter of concern.
"There is a significant increase in apparel imports from China. We are concerned about the impact of this increase on our trade and our industry," US Commerce Department spokesman Jim Leonard said.
"We will raise this issue as part of our ongoing dialogue with the Chinese to reinforce US concerns over our textile trade disparity and to seek solutions. The administration will continue to work with US textile and apparel firms and workers to make our industry competitive and level the playing field," he said.
Official data released on Friday showed China accounted for 35 percent of US textile imports in January and 22 percent of apparel imports.
The coalition of industry and labor groups told a news conference that action was needed to keep China from steamrolling the world textile industry.
They said that some products such as cotton trousers saw import increases of as much as 1,000 percent in January compared with the same period a year ago.
This was the first month for which data were available after a global agreement setting quotas on textiles and clothing expired.
The coalition said textile and apparel job losses have accelerated sharply and at least seven textile plants closed in the US this year.
"Quotas have expired, imports from China are soaring, and nearly 10,000 apparel and textile workers lost their jobs in the first 60 days of 2005," said Bruce Raynor, president of the labor union UNITE.
"These job losses highlight the immediate need to implement the China safeguard. The US government has the power to act and it must do so immediately," Raynor said.
But an association of importers accused the textile groups of promoting "hysteria" and said freer trade is benefiting all countries.
Laura Jones, executive director of the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said the recent data show rises not only from China, but from Jordan, Egypt and Central American and Caribbean nations.
"China did increase its trade, but the numbers demonstrate that hysteria about that trade is totally unwarranted," Jones said.
"The entire world is benefiting from the end of the quota system, including US textile producers selling yarns and fabrics to the Caribbean and Central America," she said.
The row came as the EU warned ahead of talks with Beijing next week that it could take "appropriate" measures to limit the impact of a surge in Chinese textile imports after export quotas were lifted.
China, the world's largest exporter of clothing with a 28 percent share of the market, is predicted to be the main winner from the disappearance of the textile quotas, as its textile industry can reach economies of scale that allow it to undercut producers with higher costs in Europe and the US.
The end of the quotas, enshrined in the 1974 Multifibre Arrangement and later in the WTO Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, was expected to have a major impact not only on wealthier nations that import goods, but on other developing countries that may lose market share to China.
Under China's WTO accession accord, Washington may limit growth in Chinese imports to 7.5 percent through 2008 in cases where the imports cause disruption to US industry.
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