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WASHINGTON — U.S. sourcing executives saw the move by China on Friday to place higher tariffs on its apparel and textile exports as more symbolic than substantive and an action that won't change manufacturing strategies.
It is symbolism, though, that might help China lessen tensions with the U.S. and Europe after a surge of imports from the country following the elimination of quotas this year among World Trade Organization members.
China will increase export tariffs on 74 types of apparel and textile products on June 1, according to a report on the official state news service Friday. For most of the categories, the duty would rise to 12 cents from 2.4 cents per item. Complete details were unavailable, but exceptions include women's cotton overcoats, which will be levied with a 48-cent tariff, up from 3.6 cents.
The move puts more bite into tariffs China first imposed on its own exports on Jan. 1 and comes on the heels of two calls within a week for new quotas by the Bush administration, meant to limit surging Chinese imports into the country.
The rising tariffs indicate to the U.S. and other countries that China is not trying to absorb the entire apparel and textile industry, said Peter McGrath, chairman of purchasing for J.C. Penney Purchasing Corp., noting, however, that the tariffs were not "extraordinarily punitive."
"This, in my mind, is going to be their method of export control," said McGrath, adding the Chinese can raise them again to slow exports.
The U.S. is seeking to restrict imports from China through the safeguard quotas it said it would imposed this month, which would limit growth in seven categories of goods, such as man-made fiber trousers and cotton shirts and blouses, to a 7.5 percent annual increase, calculated from the 12 months ended Feb. 28.
Together, the seven petitions for quotas, four filed by domestic manufacturers and three initiated by the administration, sought to slow the growth of imports of those seven categories, worth $1.31 billion. Those restrictions go into place when consultations with the Chinese are officially requested later this month.
Chinese apparel and textile imports shot up 60.5 percent to $4.77 billion during the first three months of the year, according to the Commerce Department.