Coauthored by Elliot J. Feldman and John J. Burke

The last of the quotas on textile and clothing imported into the United States from the developing world expired at the end of 2008 with the end of the quotas authorized by China’s Protocol of Accession to the WTO. Notwithstanding the end of the quotas, trade in textiles and clothing remains distorted by a web of bilateral agreements that give preferential access to the U.S. market on a quasi colonial basis. Dr. Elliot J. Feldman discussed these issues in a speech he gave on November 3, 2009 to a meeting of the Private Sector Consulting Committee of the International Textiles And Clothing Bureau entitled Rags To Riches To Rags? Textile Trade Policy In The United States After The Quotas.

Dr. Feldman noted in a speech (Part I & Part II) given on September 20, 2008 to the Chinese National Textile Association, Shandong Province Textile Industry Association and the Zaozhuang City Government, that U.S. textile companies would face substantial obstacles in filing trade remedy actions against textiles imports. Whether for the reasons he offered then, or for reasons related to the global recession, no trade remedy actions have been filed to date against textile or apparel imports into the United States. It is prudent to remain vigilant. Cases may still come. If they do, however, they are likely to be narrow and targeted.

Our prediction that significant trade remedy disputes over clothing and textiles are not likely with the United States is based on the organization and structure of American government as much as it is on the nature of the merchandise. The United States federal government has three branches, reasonably balanced and offsetting one another. The power to negotiate trade agreements rests with the President, but only Congress can pass the necessary legislation to implement them. Each house of Congress is divided into many committees.

Two committees, one in each house, control international trade, the Finance Committee in the Senate, and the Ways & Means Committee in the House of Representatives. These committees are also the tax writing committees. For various reasons, the Congressmen and Senators most interested in tax-writing tend to come from rural states with small populations. U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing tends to be concentrated in the more populous states, such as California, New York, New Jersey, Georgia and North Carolina. Hence, in the current Congress, at least, textile and apparel interests are not well-positioned to influence laws and policy with respect to international trade.

Notwithstanding over 30 years of quotas, the U.S. apparel industries declined drastically as production was shifted to lower cost countries, such as China, and countries that benefited from special trade preference agreements with the United States. These industries have declined to the point where, except for certain niche products, it would be hard to find a U.S. industry left with the standing to file a trade remedy case against apparel imports. The U.S. textile industry would like to restrict imports of apparel from countries such as China and Vietnam, because those imports compete with apparel made with U.S. textiles in countries that have entered into preferential trade agreements with the United States. However, the textile industry does not have standing to file trade remedy cases against apparel imports.

The U.S. textile industry would like to restrict imports from countries such as China because Chinese imports interfere with a quasi colonial strategy they have worked out with U.S. apparel companies. The strategy is simple. The capital intensive textile producers sell their products into regions subject to special agreements, originating with the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act, the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act, the Andean Trade Preference Act, and the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The countries subject to the agreements receive textiles and raw materials from the United States duty-free and return them in the form of finished goods to the United States, which imports them duty-free provided they contain raw materials from the United States. The United States thus effectively incorporates cheap labor offshore, preserving the capital intensive industry. The WTO waived on all of these agreements, permitting the discriminatory preferences regarding American content, in May 2009.

The looming question is whether China can penetrate with textiles the markets the United States has insulated through the duty-free provisions for apparel made from U.S. fabric and yarn. So far, however, China has not shown much interest in this direction, content to intensify capital investment at home while also relying at home on the labor intensive process of making finished products. Because the U.S. arrangements are based on regional trade agreements recognized by the WTO, there are limits on what other competing countries can do. They can seek their own bilateral agreements with the United States, of course, asking for the same terms as applied to the NAFTA, CAFTA, and Andean countries. They might focus on reconsideration of these privileged relationships by targeting tariff reductions in the Doha Round, but the Round already is paralyzed by agricultural issues. Expiration of the Multifiber Arrangement meant the end of quotas, but it has turned out not to mean global free trade.

限制发展中国家纺织服装制品出口到美国的配额制度终于在2008年底结束,这是中国入世协定规定的。虽然配额制度已经结束,但是纺织服装贸易仍被建立在类似殖民主义基础之上、给予某些国家进入美国市场特殊优惠政策的双边协议编制的巨网所扭曲。费德门博士在2009年11月3日召开的国际纺织服装局企业界磋商委员会会议上做了题为《Rags To Riches To Rags? Textile Trade Policy In the United States After The Quotas》的演讲,探讨了这些问题。