What will it take for the Bush administration to enforce the law? That's the question textile industry leaders are asking as they filed petitions asking their government to implement the safeguard provisions in China's WTO accession agreement.

By now, most people are aware of the explosion in Chinese textile and apparel imports of recent months. The safeguard provisions were sold to Congress and the textile industry as a way to prevent such severe disruptions to the domestic textile sector.

But the numbers are getting worse, according to industry leaders. They cite four product areas in which Chinese imports have jumped by 920 percent in the past 17 months.

“There is nothing orderly about that,” said Allen Gant, CEO of Glen Raven Inc., referring to the way the China safeguard restrictions were supposed to provide for the orderly development of trade between China and the United States after China's admission to the World Trade Organization.

“We recently published a study showing that 630,000 textile and apparel jobs will be lost and 1,300 plants will close if quotas expire on textile and apparel products on Jan. 1, 2005, and the China safeguard is not implemented,” said Willis C. Moore III, American Textile Manufacturers Institute chairman.

“If the U.S. government does not send a message by approving these actions, massive layoffs will actually begin occurring sometime in mid-2004 due to the nature of ordering cycles from China.”

The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition filed petitions in four product areas: 1) knit fabrics; 2) cotton and man-made fiber gloves; 3) cotton and man-made fiber dressing gowns and robes; and 4) cotton and man-made fiber brassieres.

The petitions were filed with the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, an interagency group that is chaired by the Department of Commerce and includes representatives from the Departments of State, Labor and the Treasury, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Those 630,000 jobs would be on top of an estimated 271,000 textile and apparel positions lost since China joined the WTO in January 2001. “I recently had to close one of my plants in North Carolina because of our nation's flawed trade policy,” said Jim Chesnutt of National Spinning Co. “This administration has said it has a plan to save an industry that it has a cornerstone of U.S. manufacturing. Now we call on it to fulfill its pledge and stop this unfair surge.”

Economists would say that if the U.S. textile industry can't compete in the world market, then it deserves to go the way of the buggy whip. But that would be overly simplistic. China manipulates its currency — illegally — so that its products cost 40 percent less than those of U.S. manufacturers. That's after direct government subsidies and the lack of child labor laws result in artificially low prices.

CITA has 15 days to review the petitions and post them for a 30-day comment period. Then it has 60 days to make a determination on the petitions.