Friday, December 10, 2004


So do you realize that soon -- perhaps as early as next month -- there will be a massive increase in low-priced textiles from China (far more than we import now), and the likely result will be the destruction of what's left of the U.S. textile industry and a huge loss of jobs? And there's nothing anyone can do about it except possibly stall for time?

After Jan. 1, when federal limits on textile and apparel imports are scheduled to expire, China is poised to flood the U.S. market with cheap bluejeans, T-shirts and underwear.

More than 600,000 more jobs might disappear, too, textile industry executives warn....

In 1994, the World Trade Organization voted to eliminate all textile and apparel quotas by January 2005. A quotaless world would allow U.S. retailers to buy textiles and apparel from the lowest-cost suppliers, mainly China, India and Pakistan. Cheap production in those countries means cheaper prices for U.S. consumers.

China now supplies the United States with 16 percent of the textiles and apparel goods sold in this country. The WTO expects that amount to triple come January.

That's from an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article published in October.

The U.S. is allowed to invoke "safeguard" provisions to prevent the onslaught -- but only for a year at a time, and only until 2008. U.S. textile manufacturers are asking the Bush administration to invoke these provisions -- but now retailers are suing:

The U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, the main trade group representing major U.S. garment importers and retailers, hopes to win an injunction to block the Commerce Department and four other U.S. agencies from considering nine petitions from domestic textile companies seeking strict limits on clothing and textiles coming in next year from China.

BusinessWeek notes that the impact of this is going to be global:

Some 30 million jobs worldwide could be affected, including an estimated 650,000 in the U.S. Developing nations in Asia, Africa, and Central America that benefited from quotas will have to compete with two emerging giants, China and India, which boast low wages, modern factories, and strong infrastructure.... The result could be mass unemployment in countries from Honduras to Bangladesh. "The developing countries are doomed," says Clyde V. Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, a Washington think tank.

I don't know what could slow this trend. There's the barest hint of a labor movement in China -- some Chinese textile workers recently went on strike, but after seven weeks the strike was crushed.

Meanwhile, from the Journal-Constitution, here's what's happening in and around the textile town of Eden, North Carolina, as a result of the import onslaught we've already experienced:

Pillowtex's demise ratcheted up the intensity of domestic abuse in Rockingham County, says Angie Boles, executive director of Help Inc., which assists victims of violence and sexual assault. "The injuries were more severe," Boles says. "About that time there were two or three assaults with hammers right in a row. One woman had 80 stitches. Victims come in and make excuses. They say, 'Well, he was drinking or he lost his job and that's why he did it.' "

Over the past four years, North Carolina's midsection has lost 25,000 manufacturing jobs. One in six residents lives below the poverty line.

Mayor Price points, though, to manufacturing newcomers. A boilermaker is poised to move into the Pillowtex plant and hire 103 workers. An Israeli baby-wipe company announced plans last year to hire 200 workers in nearby Reidsville.

But 10,000 people applied for those jobs, says Gordon Allen III, who runs the county's employment office. "This is different than any recession I've ever experienced," says Allen, a 27-year veteran of the employment wars. "The jobs are just not there. When you lose 5,000 jobs" --- out of a countywide labor force of 45,000 --- "it's a devastating blow. We're in a transition, but the $64 million question is, what are we transitioning into? What are the jobs going to be? Where are we headed?"

I don't know. But I'm with The American Prospect's David Sirota, who thinks Democrats need to start preaching economic populism instead of unquestioningly touting the virtues of globalization. Citing electoral victories in red states by economic-populist Democrats (as well as Bernie Sanders), Sirota argues that this is good politics. I agree -- and I think it's good for the country as well.

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