<p>The months leading up to Saturday's lifting of Chinese textile and apparel quotas have been largely silent for many American companies, and that may be the most disturbing sound of all.</p><p>When the calendar turned to 2005, the quotas that for decades limited the imports of Chinese garments and fabrics officially expired. American textile companies have known this day was coming, but the immediate impact on the industry struggling mightily to survive is almost impossible to predict.</p><p>Officials at some textiles companies, based predominantly in the South, expressed hope that the American government would quickly impose safeguards to re-establish many of the quotas whose removal most threaten the domestic marketplace.</p><p>But in the last few months, many say business has dipped _ quite possibly in anticipation of a new source of cheaper textiles.</p><p>"I know our customers are totally uncertain of what's going to happen," said Jim Chesnutt, president of Washington, N.C.-based National Spinning Company. "They just simply don't know. It has been an eerily quiet October, November and December in the sweater and apparel trade."</p><p>Chesnutt says the yarn business is down between 15 and 18 percent in the three-month period from a year ago. It's unclear how much China is responsible for that, but the answer should be known soon.</p><p>Stephen Felker Jr., manager of corporate development at Monroe, Ga.-based Avondale Mills, was reporting a somewhat rosier picture. He said the influx of Chinese textiles will no doubt strain the American industry, but he sees no immediate harm to Avondale's business.</p><p>"A lot of people were saying on Jan. 1 we were going to have to shut our doors," Felker said. "That's just not the case. We've got good visibility, and we feel like we're going strong."</p><p>China's treatment as a full trading partner of the United States comes courtesy of its recent membership in the World Trade Organization. Still, there are a few conditions _ including the ability of the American government to soften the blow to the domestic industry with safeguard quotas to avoid market disruption on certain goods.</p><p>The government has agreed to consider several safeguard petitions from the textile industry, but as of Saturday only one that protects knit socks was fully in place. Previous ones protecting bras, dressing gowns and knit fabrics expired on Saturday.</p><p>Robert DuPree, vice president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, said it's crucial not only that the American government take advantage of those safeguards but that the Chinese government not try to resist them.</p><p>"China, when it sought to join the WTO, gave us the right to impose these quotas based on threat of market disruption," DuPree said. "What part of that agreement that they signed where they crossing their fingers on?"</p><p>China has already made one peace offering to American businesses. Last month, it announced it will impose a new tax on its textile exports.</p><p>The U.S. Commerce Department is also expected to rule in February on whether to limit the growth of American textile imports from China to 7.5 percent a year.</p><p>___</p><p>On the Net:</p><p>HASH(0x2864bb4)</p>
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