Buyers from companies including Adidas, Ann Taylor, Liz Claiborne and Kohl's are calling on the Vietnamese government to reinstate the export monitoring system used to track the price and volume of apparel shipments from Vietnam to the US.

They say the decision to replace the Export License (E/L) system in May 2007 with a Certificate of Origin (COO) system makes it more likely the US will request anti-dumping investigations against Vietnam - and makes buyers wary about placing orders with suppliers based there.

In a letter sent to Vietnam's Minister of Industry and Trade last week, Christopher Muessel, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, warns: "From our perspective, Vietnam has taken a step backward, and has given the US domestic textile industry a reason to request anti-dumping investigations against Vietnam."

His comments come as the US is reviewing data on apparel imports from Vietnam with a view to deciding whether there is any basis to initiate an antidumping investigation.

The monitoring programme began on 11 January, when Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization, and is scheduled to remain in place until 19 January 2009. Reviews are planned every six months, with the first formal review due this month.

Under scrutiny are imports of five broad groups of products made in Vietnam - shirts, trousers, sweaters, underwear and swimwear.

Muessel believes that data accumulated under the new COO system does not mirror data collected by the US since it does not require the apparel category or unit price value and is prone to irregularities.

"The process is monitored by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce (VCCI)," he writes, "rather than the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Vietnamese Government.

"Accordingly, factories voluntarily list the apparel category and unit prices on the certificate of origin application; however, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce (VCCI) is not familiar with the US Apparel Categories system and does not verify accuracy of the information provided.

"In a number of instances, factories erroneously or falsely have listed category descriptions that the agent or buyer requested, even if the categories were not accurate.

"Therefore, even if VCCI is monitoring the information provided, data irregularities on the applications for COO cause inaccurate data accumulation."

This, he believes, gives the US domestic textile industry a reason to request anti-dumping investigations against Vietnam.

"Due to the urgency and importance of this issue, we request that the Ministry of Industry and Trade re-instate the export monitoring (export licensing) system as soon as possible, and in accordance with US HTS (Harmonized Tariff System) categories (10 digits), so that the data collected will mirror the US data," the letter says.

There are also calls for the data to be available on the MOT website weekly, as in the past, to provide US buyers weekly information about Vietnam's apparel export data.

"Visibility provides buyers with the confidence to continue placing orders in Vietnam and minimises the risk of the US Commerce Department self-initiating an anti-dumping investigation against Vietnam."

An anti-dumping investigation would cause US apparel buyers to withdraw from Vietnam manufacturers almost immediately, because of the uncertainty and disruption that such a probe would bring.