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U.S. Moves to Impose Curbs on Imports of Socks From China

The decision pleases domestic textile makers but upsets retailers that buy the disputed goods.

October 23, 2004|Evelyn Iritani | Times Staff Writer

Signaling that it plans to get tough with China, the Bush administration said Friday that it would curb imports of socks from that Asian nation because they posed a "significant" threat to the U.S. sock industry.

James Jochum, assistant secretary of commerce, said a 4,200% surge in imports from China of wool, synthetic-fiber and cotton socks over the last three years threatened U.S. makers, contributing to a 15% decrease in their production and employment. Over that time, the average wholesale price of Chinese-made socks dropped by more than half to $5.11 from $11.54, he said.

"This administration, when it is presented with a strong factual case, will not hesitate to enforce our trade laws," Jochum said.

Jochum was clearly responding to criticism from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry that the Bush administration had not been aggressive enough in enforcing U.S. trade laws. Both sides are anxious to get votes from Southern states hit hard by textile and apparel job losses. U.S. textile makers applauded Friday's decision. They fear China will take over the market at year-end, when global textile and apparel quotas are eliminated.

Over the coming weeks, the U.S. government must rule on whether it will accept six additional petitions for "safeguard" measures on Chinese-made woven pants, undergarments and other goods. The Bush administration has imposed import limits on Chinese-made bras, dressing gowns and knit fabric.

Disappointed retailers, which oppose import curbs, said Friday's decision signaled that the Bush administration probably would approve at least some of those pending requests, which are based on the threat of a surge in imports still under quota until year-end. Retailers argue that the U.S. cannot impose safeguards until the products are removed from quota protection and a surge can be proved.

Cotton socks, which were included in Friday's ruling, are still under quota. Brenda Jacobs, counsel for the International Assn. of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, pointed out that although imports of wool and synthetic-fiber socks rose, U.S. purchases of Chinese-made cotton socks fell 63% over the last year.

But U.S. producers, which primarily make cotton socks, argue that they are losing business to socks made of synthetic fibers.

The Commerce Department will notify the Chinese government of its decision on socks, triggering a 90-day consultation period. If an agreement is not reached, the U.S. can impose a one-year restriction on China's imports of socks at a level 7.5% higher than last year.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

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