Negotiations between the United States and China begin in Beijing today as the two sides try to hammer out a deal that will limit surging exports of Chinese textiles and clothing.

Similar talks between the two sides in San Francisco earlier this month failed to reach an agreement on the dispute, which has been escalating since quotas between World Trade Organisation members were lifted at the beginning of this year.

The US says total textile and apparel imports by volume from China are up 47 per cent in 2005 compared to 2004.

As of June 2005, China holds a 32 per cent share of the US textile and apparel import market (up from 23 per cent in June 2004) - the highest percentage share held by a single country in modern US history.

The US delegation is being led by David Spooner, Washington's chief textile negotiator.

The US government has already imposed safeguards on cotton trousers, manmade fibre trousers, cotton shirts, manmade fibre shirts, men's and boys cotton and manmade fibre woven shirts, cotton and manmade fibre underwear, socks, and combed cotton yarn.
 
Additional safeguard decisions by the US government are due on August 31 on cases covering wool trousers, sweaters, brassieres, dressing gowns, knit fabric and other synthetic filament fabric. 
 
Six additional safeguard cases have also been accepted for review, covering curtains, socks, woven blouses, skirts, nightwear and swimwear. Decisions on these cases are pending this autumn.

The US industry remains divided over the ongoing talks.

American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) president and chief executive officer Kevin M Burke has issued a statement with the US apparel industry - from US apparel manufacturers and importers to retailers - to "urge the Bush Administration to negotiate a transparent, fair and predictable US/China Bilateral Textile Agreement that truly reflects the needs and priorities of the US apparel industry." 

The joint letter was sent by AAFA, the National Retail Federation (NRF), the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the US Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel (USA-ITA).
 
"While we believe that any such agreement is a significant step backward for the US economy, US businesses and, most importantly, US consumers so shortly after the world concluded its ten-year long march towards freeing up global apparel trade, we realise that some sort of agreement seems imminent," stated Burke. 

In brief, the US apparel industry's main priorities in any agreement are for base limits to be calculated using actual 2005 trade (not using past trade that was restricted by quotas); no restraints on goods not produced in the United States; substantial double-digit growth rates to serve as a transition; and no new safeguards.

In contrast, American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC) executive director Auggie Tantillo is looking for broader restraints.

He is calling on the United States to "define a new trading relationship with China that addresses their numerous unfair advantages in the global marketplace. The construction of a strong, comprehensive bilateral textile agreement would be the first step toward such an arrangement."

A statement from the Chinese government said: "China will adopt an active attitude to find a solution and create a stable environment for China-US textile trade."