As the domestic textile and apparel industry continues to falter, U.S. cotton growers are faced with losing customers for their crop. That's why more than 40 textile and fiber industry executives got together Aug. 11 to announce the initiation of a grassroots lobbying campaign designed to stem the tide of Chinese imports.
"Farmers are being hurt by the destruction of the U.S. manufacturing industry," says Ronnie Flemming, president of the Southern Cotton Growers Association of Scotland Neck, N.C. "Domestic mill consumption of cotton is down by approximately 40 percent, and when U.S. manufacturers like Pillowtex are forced into bankruptcy, U.S. cotton farmers are losing their best customers."
Gaylon Booker, National Cotton Council consultant in Memphis, explained the recent announcement saying, "We are attempting to get textile and cotton industry leaders energized to follow up with members of Congress and the administration to insist that government take action on our petition for a safeguard.
The coalition of 14 cotton textile and fiber industry organizations leaders filed a safeguard petition July 24 with the government Committee for Implementation of Textile Agreements, which would enable quotas to be reinstated on Chinese textile exports into the U.S. market. If enforced, industry leaders say, the safeguard would slow the surge of Chinese imports of cotton knits and apparel into U.S. markets.
"We are also asking our leadership to continue lobbying Congress, the administration, and the U.S. Trade Representative to retain textile tariffs under the World Trade Organization agreement," Booker says. "We don't want them to eliminate our tariffs. We want everyone else to get the tariffs down to our levels, before agreeing to further lower our tariffs."
In addition, Booker says, "We want the administration, in negotiating new trade agreements, to disallow trade preferences for third country products or components. Right now, we are negotiating a free trade agreement with Central America, and we don't want China to be able to ship their cotton into Central America in order for it then to come in to our country duty and tariff free."
Jim Chesnutt, CEO of the National Spinning Company in Washington, N.C., says, the group will actively lobby state and local governments to support their campaign to save the U.S. textile and apparel industry.
Billy Moore, vice president of governmental and investor relations for Unifi, Inc., in Greensboro, N.C., says, "There is a mechanism, the special textile China safeguard, that can slow job-destroying Chinese imports. We intend to generate as many individualized e-mails and letters as we can from textile industry employees to Congress and the president in support of the China safeguard petitions filed on July 24."
Allen E. Gant Jr., CEO of Glen Raven, Inc., says, "Since January 2001, nearly 300,000 textile and apparel jobs have been lost — and that number does not even include the job losses from the tragic Pillowtex bankruptcy."
"Moreover, the United States ran a $61 billion trade deficit in textile and apparel goods in 2002. If the federal government refuses to change the flawed trade policies that generated those numbers, the U.S. textile and apparel industry is in grave danger," he says. "That's why the companies attending this press conference have pledged to hold voter registration drives to make sure that 100 percent of the eligible voters working at their respective companies are registered to vote."
According to the textile and fiber coalition, China currently uses practices that are illegal under world trade rules to give its products an estimated 40 percent advantage over U.S. produced textile and apparel goods. China also heavily subsidizes its textile sector, with more than one-third of its textile output last year coming from money-losing operations.