WASHINGTON – Shirts, pants, underwear and a lot of other clothes made abroad have arrived in the United States by the bulging boatload since Jan. 1, when more than three decades of quotas ended.
Consumers are rejoicing over the lower prices. But the domestic textile and apparel industry is complaining about the loss of thousands of jobs from what it contends is unfair competition. It wants the Bush administration to move quickly to limit the soaring number of shipments from China.
‘Time is so critical. The amount of goods that China is flooding into this market is so large that only the government can move quickly enough to prevent a lot of textile jobs from being lost,’ said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations.
According to data released Friday by the Commerce Department, China shipped 84.48 million cotton knit shirts to the United States in the first three months of this year, an increase of 1,258 percent from the same period a year ago. Shipments of 78.99 million cotton trousers represented an increase of 1,521 percent
Just three months after the quotas expired, U.S. manufacturers say the fallout has been swift and severe. Another government report Friday showed the loss of 7,600 textile and apparel jobs, bringing job losses for the industry to 17,200 this year.
In the past three months, 14 textile plants in five states ? North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Virginia ? have shut down. More could come, industry officials say, without federal action.
‘The textile and apparel industry will experience severe job losses in 2005 unless the U.S. government decisively confronts China’s predatory trade practices,’ said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, an industry group.
Under the terms for China’s admission to the World Trade Organization, the United States and other countries have the power to restore the quotas â€” called government safeguards â€” should the surge in Chinese shipments prove to be disruptive to the domestic industry.
The quotas would cap growth in categories such as trousers and knit shirts to just 7.5 percent more than shipments of those goods during the previous 12 months.
The industry applied for this protection in 20 different clothing categories last fall.
Retailers, who benefit from lower-cost products, persuaded a court to block the government from considering the request, arguing there was no basis for quotas just because of the threat of higher imports.