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China’s Ripple Effect: U.S. Textile Industry Targets ’04 Ballot Box

In a meeting today in Spartanburg, S.C., a textile coalition will launch a grassroots lobbying campaign, with registering voters as its centerpiece.

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WASHINGTON — Congress and President Bush may be on vacation this month, but U.S. textile industry executives aren’t taking a break in their campaign to ratchet up pressure on the White House to limit Chinese imports and customize free-trade agreements to curb mill losses.

In a meeting today in Spartanburg, S.C., 35 executives from a coalition of fabric, yarn and fiber companies and their associations are launching a grassroots lobbying campaign with voter registration as its centerpiece. A similar meeting was held Monday in Greensboro, N.C., with 40 executives.

“If [President Bush] wants to go back to the White House, something has to be done about the manufacturing policy in this country,” said coalition member Jim Chesnutt, president and chief executive officer of National Spinning Co., Washington, N.C.

The textile contingent is angling for the Bush administration to limit ballooning imports of low-cost apparel and textiles from China they claim unfairly compete with U.S. mills and are a main culprit in the industry’s downward spiral.

“They manipulate their currency, they cheat, they do nothing in terms of the environment, working and social conditions we have to do in this country,” Chesnutt said in a phone interview.

The coalition’s strategy is to tap into growing anger about textile company losses and escalating industry unemployment to motivate executives and workers to lobby the White House on restricting Chinese imports.

Although not endorsing or singling out candidates for defeat, the coalition, through its company members, is launching a voter registration drive across the South to further pressure the administration, as well as Capitol Hill lawmakers up for reelection in 2004, to support textile industry friendly trade policies.

For example, the coalition is advocating that a Central American Free Trade Agreement, now being negotiated, should exclude any allowances for non-Central American or U.S. textiles to be used in apparel receiving U.S. duty breaks. The administration wants CAFTA completed by 2004.

“As long as the playing field is level, I’ll compete with anyone in the world….I’m rabid about this,” said Alan E. Gant Jr., chief executive officer of Glen Raven Inc., a coalition member based in Glen Raven, N.C. “There is a direct correlation between our trade policy and loss of manufacturing jobs. As soon as our senators, congressmen and the administration understand this, the better off we’ll be.”
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