Are new EU curbs likely on Chinese apparel imports? Will Vietnam import monitoring lead to anti-dumping duties? And what will happen when US safeguards expire at the end of 2008? These are just three of the industry issues highlighted in just-style's round-up of the international apparel trade agenda in 2008.

There will continue to be an element of uncertainty around apparel sourcing in 2008 - particularly from China.

EU curbs on Chinese apparel imports?
The EC and China have agreed to jointly monitor Chinese textile and clothing shipments to the EU until the end of 2008 in an attempt to provide a clear picture of trade patterns and alert the industry to any sudden surges in shipments.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson in December 2007 promised to take action if there is a sudden upsurge in textile imports from China in 2008 - a comment that suggests this particular saga has not yet run its course.

So safeguard investigations and anti-dumping complaints are still distinct possibilities, and if successful, provisional measures could enter force in the second half of next year.

Vietnam import monitoring
Import monitoring has already been used successfully to control the growth of apparel shipments between the US and Vietnam over the past 12 months, and is likely to do so for at least another year since it is scheduled to remain in place until 19 January 2009.

Fears of an anti-dumping investigation, however, continue to hold "a false cloud over sourcing from Vietnam," and mean "US importers and retailers are reluctant to place too many orders in Vietnam."

And with no suggestions that the monitoring programme will be abandoned, the industry is bracing itself for the next review which is due in the spring of 2008, followed by the third and final review next autumn.

The expiry of US safeguards
Restrictions on imports of all or parts of 34 customs categories of Chinese textile and apparel products into the US expire on 31 December 2008. And the big question for US firms importing apparel from China is what will happen from 1 January 2009.

The problem isn't whether the current safeguard quotas will be abolished, since there's no legal way of retaining them after 2008.

Instead, the more likely threats to trade in the near term include efforts to introduce other protectionist measures, like an export licensing system to survey imports or monitoring as a precursor to an anti-dumping investigation.

The issue on when quotas will be lifted and what, if anything, will replace them is compounded by the timing of the announcement.

2008 is election year in the US, and the outgoing Bush Administration is unlikely to want to open up of the US market to Chinese imports while the campaigning is in full swing.

Countervailing duty investigations
Textile and apparel issues could also get wrapped up in wider trade disputes with China during the course of the year. 

In particular, China is going to be a target for action to try to force currency revaluation and the elimination of subsidies - which could prompt the US to take a tougher line against imports from China in the form of higher taxes, or countervailing tariffs, for products whose import prices are kept artificially low.

Product safety concerns
As well as concerns over Chinese quotas, currency and subsidies, worries about Chinese product safety standards are likely to have far-reaching implications for clothing retailers and importers in 2008 and beyond.

At the moment there are few regulatory standards for imported clothing or textiles. But this could soon change.

The Interagency Working Group on Import Safety in the US has issued recommendations to improve the safety of imported food and consumer products.

And two new pieces of legislation - the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) Reform Act of 2007, and the Safety Assurance for Every (SAFE) Consumer Product Act of 2007 - are currently being considered.

The living wage debate
As well as product safety scares, 2007 also saw a spate of well-publicised scandals suggesting many top fashion brands are using suppliers who do not pay their employees enough.

The allegations ignited calls for fashion retailers and brands to ensure that workers making their clothes in overseas factories are paid a living wage - a debate that is likely to hot up even more in 2008.

Fears of a consumer backlash are most likely to force companies to shape up. But what exactly is a living wage, who is going to pay for the extra costs incurred, and are retailers doing enough to question their need for high gross margins?

Environmental concerns
As fears over global warming reached fever pitch last year, a slew of retailers - led by Wal-Mart and Marks & Spencer (M&S) - announced new and expanded plans to cut down on waste in their supply chains, use more organic and Fairtrade cotton, and run stores more efficiently.

But what will be the effect of such initiatives on these companies and their suppliers over the coming year?

Some retailers are already asking key suppliers to measure - and reduce - their carbon footprint. But will the results be used in purchasing decisions? And will those that don't measure up get the chop?

Just as important is how carbon footprint will actually be calculated and measured over product's life from manufacture to disposal - not only the crop growing, the production, manufacturing and transportation of new clothes, but also in washing and drying of a garment.

Rising input costs
Clothing suppliers are currently being hit by rises in input costs at a level not seen for over a decade. And it's not unreasonable to assume that higher production, export, transportation, material, labour, and living costs will eventually work through to clothing prices too.

Some of the problems have been most acute in China, a country that is likely to lose its competitive edge even further when a new Chinese labour law comes into force on 1 January 2008.

However, India, Turkey, the Philippines and Vietnam have also held rising labour costs responsible for the reduced competitiveness of their textile and clothing industries.

And the apparel industries in Cambodia and Bangladesh - which account for the lion's share of those countries' exports and jobs - are also seriously threatened by the worldwide rise in food prices.

A more in-depth review of these issues is available in just-style's January management briefing: Apparel industry issues to watch in 2008

By Leonie Barrie.