Furor Grows Over China: AFL-CIO Files 301 Claim With More in the Wings

The election-year debate over the outsourcing of U.S. jobs just got more intense — and the apparel industry is taking center stage.

The union is calling on President Bush to impose trade sanctions on China ranging from 10 to 77 percent to offset the wage advantages, to seek a binding agreement with China to ensure it protects workers’ rights and to enter into no new trade agreements unless the World Trade Organization requires its members to enforce workers’ rights.

China has been at the center of a maelstrom of controversy over its trade practices, and the domestic textile industry has turned up the heat on the Bush administration to curb imports and stem the flow of job losses. The only action the Bush administration has taken against China so far has been the imposition of safeguard quotas placed on three apparel and textile import categories at the end of 2003.

China is expected to dominate global apparel and textile commerce when all quotas are eliminated at the end of the year, and many associations are desperately trying to have quotas extended. Domestic textile and apparel groups around the globe, fearful of China’s global might, have taken the unusual step of creating a coalition to lobby countries to put the issue of quota elimination on the agenda at the World Trade Organization, although the move is considered a long shot.

Domestic textile groups, which have had China in their crosshairs for several months, hailed the AFL-CIO’s petition, noting that something needs to be done to stem the flow of job losses, while importers and retailers denounced it, claiming the cases create too many uncertainties in the sourcing picture.

“It is recognized by all parties that China does not trade fairly, and yet the unwillingness of the U.S. government to take aggressive actions on account of unfair trade practices leaves the administration vulnerable on this issue,” said Cass Johnson, acting president of the ATMI.

He acknowledged that the union’s petition is broadly defined and covers new ground, which will make it tougher to get the administration to take action.

“While this may not be the answer in itself, it could lead to the [reevaluation] of what to do with China and raise the issue of China further in the public eye,” Johnson said.

Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, which opposes restraints on China, said he is doubtful the Bush administration will act on the petition.
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