US, China likely to ink textile agreement

Washington, November 6:

The United States and China have reached a tentative agreement to limit imports of Chinese clothing and textile products into the United States, US industry officials said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not yet been announced, said it could be signed as early as Tuesday when US trade representative Rob Portman and Chinese officials will be in Geneva.

They said yesterday that the tentative deal was reached during the fifth round of discussions, which took place over the past week in Washington.

Both sides agreed on the major issues, they said, and discussions were continuing on details.

The deal would be similar to an agreement China reached with the 25-nation European Union earlier this year. However, in a victory for US manufacturers, the deal would last through 2008, one year longer than the EU agreement.

US textile and clothing companies and their labour unions have been pushing for a comprehensive deal to stem a flood of Chinese imports that began last January when global quotas, in place for more than three decades, were lifted.

President George W Bush’s administration has been reimposing quotas, known as ‘safeguards,’ for individual categories of clothing and textiles. The industry wants a comprehensive deal covering all threatened categories of US production and lasting for three years. The safeguard quotas were only good for a year at a time. The tentative agreement would allow for imports of most clothing and textmle categories covered by the deal to increase by eight to 10 per cent in 2006, by around 13 per cent in 2007 and by around 17 per cent for 2008.

All of these percentages would be above the 7.5 per cent growth allowed under the safeguard procedures. US retailers had said they would reluctantly go along with a comprehensive deal as long as the growth in imports was sufficient to allow them to obtain

reliable supplies.

Laura E Jones, executive director of the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, which represents American retailers, said that many of the quotas imposed under the safeguard process filled up so quickly this year that retailers were left scrambling to find alternate sources of supply.

“When you place your orders, you need to know that it will not be a race to the dock with no certainty you will get your shipments,” Jones said.

Portman and Chinese officials will be in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday for talks at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on a global trade deal. He is scheduled to meet on November 14 in Beijing with Chinese commerce minister Bo Xilai.

That is one of a number of stops Portman is making to try to build momentum for the Doha Round of globel trade negotiations and critical upcoming meetings of trade ministers in Hong Kong in December.

Portman’s stop in Beijing will come just a few days before Bush is scheduled to visit China.