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The U.S. signed a long-sought agreement with China on Tuesday that restricts 34 types of apparel and textile imports valued at more than $5 billion annually, creating a more stable business environment for importers, domestic textile companies and retailers.
The U.S. textile industry, which has shut at least 31 plants this year and attributes much of that decline to a flood of less-expensive Chinese imports, praised the three-year deal as a much-needed brake on China's manufacturing strength. Importers, who contend the plant closings are part of the evolution of global trade, were nonetheless pleased to finally be able to source goods from China on a firm playing field.
"This is a very good agreement for the American worker….This textile agreement is an example of how the U.S. and China do have the ability to resolve tough trade disputes in a manner that benefits both countries," U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said during a news conference in London with his counterpart, Bo Xilai, China's minister of commerce .
The USTR was in London engaged in Doha talks with Brazil, India and the European Union.
Over the first eight months of this year, apparel and textile imports from China surged 46.1 percent to 11.1 billion square meter equivalents, valued at $15.4 billion. The Bush administration in May began restricting those imports with a series of safeguard quotas, which held goods worth $1.9 billion to annual growth of 7.5 percent.
Last year, the U.S. trade deficit with China reached a record $162 billion.
The deal allows for a 10 percent increase in apparel imports and a 12.5 percent rise in textiles next year, based on imports for the 12 months ending in December or, in some cases, October. This would be followed by 12.5 percent across-the-board growth in 2007 and increases of 15 to 16 percent in 2008, with some exceptions.
When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, it agreed to the safeguards, which need to be renewed annually and can be applied unpredictably, through 2008. In Tuesday's deal, the U.S. agreed to use safeguards with "restraint" on products not covered by the deal.
Except for socks, goods embargoed at U.S. ports this year will be allowed into the country soon and will not be counted against any quotas.