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WASHINGTON — A deal to regulate Chinese imports might still come to pass, but U.S. textile firms and apparel importers are starting to move on as the prospects for an agreement fade.
For the textile side, that means filing more petitions for safeguard quotas and looking for other ways to crack down on China over what the U.S. industry sees as unfair trading practices, such as an undervalued currency.
“With each day that goes by, we become more mentally resigned to the fact that there’s not going to be an agreement,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, a textile industry lobbying group.
At the same time, importers that were primarily seeking stability in a deal are looking for China to create a system that will control goods as they leave the country, avoiding a rush to the border as quotas fill.
“If we can’t get certainty at the negotiating table, there are other ways, and we’ll directly approach the Chinese,” said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “There’s a limited window here where people can defer making decisions based on what’s going on with the negotiations.”
The unpredictability of safeguards — requiring the filing of petitions by category, government review and imposition — has already thwarted sourcing plans this year.
“The business from China has dried up to a large extent because of uncertainty,” said Tom Haugen, president of sourcing firm Li & Fung USA.
Knowing what goods can be brought into the country, by virtue of an import agreement or Chinese export controls, would improve the situation for importers, he said.
On the other hand, textile groups say the safeguards have given them vital breathing room, but still not enough protection. At least 31 textile mills have closed down so far this year.
Several rounds of U.S.-Sino talks this summer and fall moved forward in fits and starts, but progress seemed to have ground to a halt when talks in Beijing ended earlier this month without an agreement on when the American and Chinese negotiators would meet again.