China Apparel Imports Figures Questioned
$200 million discrepancy in import figures alerts US Customs
WASHINGTON, DC - 08/24/08 - When US Customs officials delved into details of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, they noticed something odd, reports Jeffrey Sparshott in a recent edition of The Washington Times.?
Australian numbers showed that the country wasn't selling Americans nearly as many sweaters as US importers claimed.
"When you see a $200 million discrepancy in trade data, that is significant. That's just from one country," said Janet Labuda, director of the textile enforcement and operations division at the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
The likely problem, writes Sparshott, is China.?
So Customs started a three-month program targeting and often seizing products from seven nations through which "knit-to-shape" products - sweaters - might be shipped illegally. The illegal trans-shipment avoids quotas and tariffs that would apply to products made in China.
The program targeting sweaters is the second of its kind this year. Socks were held up at ports earlier in the year.
Both are efforts to overcome textile and apparel smuggling, a multimillion-dollar problem - there are no exact figures - that breaks US law, diverts income from the US Treasury, and increases pressure on domestic manufacturers.
"To us?we're not talking one or two dollars. It's a significant amount of product," Labuda told the paper.?
US importers say the program isn't targeted enough. They say it is delaying sweater shipments by weeks or months as they are forced to produce documents that prove country of origin, including employment records, timecards and transportation documents.
"Our members are really feeling the pain. They are expressing a lot of concern," said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade for the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel in New York.
The association's members include companies such as the GAP, but firms did not want to discuss the knit-to-shape program with the paper.
The sweater seizures follow a sock program that importers called thinly veiled protectionism. Importers say it is also disruptive.
"The problem you have is, you might have retailers who cancel orders. And these are things in ads, things in catalogs. It's tying up money," said John Pellegrini, a Customs lawyer who works with apparel importers.
Neither Customs nor importers would offer specific dollar figures for the sweater program.
"Then we will see what the results are and determine if we need to continue, stop, shift our efforts," said Labuda.
Total textile and apparel imports last year were almost $80 billion. It is not clear how much product was labeled illegally.
Sweater manufacturing often involves several steps at factories in different countries.
Although it is legal to complete some sewing in China and still label a product as, for example, made in Australia, it is illegal to complete all the work in China and label it as made elsewhere.
Some illegal shipments are expected to subside January 1, when the quota system ends. But the incentive to mislabel products will continue as long as overseas companies seek to avoid tariffs.
Clothing from Australia, for example, enters the US duty-free under a new trade agreement, although many products from China do not.
"The fat lady hasn't sung yet," Labuda told the paper.???
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