With a Chinese government deadline for trade retaliation set for Dec. 31, Chinese and U.S. negotiators failed to narrow their differences last week over textiles.
Textiles are a politically sensitive industry and China is a major source of U.S. imports.The two economic giants continued to spar over quotas and transshipments during four days of talks that ended in Beijing last week, but officials in the United States and China reported that the atmosphere at the sessions was not confrontational.
Both sides are trying to renew the three-year bilateral textile pact, which expires at the end of this month.
According to press reports from Beijing, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation declined to comment on whether threatened curbs on imports of selected U.S. goods would go into effect Tuesday.
Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Last month, the Chinese government threatened to retaliate for Washington-imposed penalties on Chinese textiles by temporarily banning imports of some U.S. textiles, farm goods and alcoholic drinks.
The threat was a response to U.S. trade officials' refusal to withdraw $19 million in punitive charges levied against China for transshipping, or sending textile goods through another country to circumvent quotas.
China believes it has been unfairly maligned by the transshipment charges, which it says have curtailed the growth in Chinese textile exports.
U.S. importers, anxious to know the terms of a new bilateral pact so they can plan their orders, say the Chinese may be using the threat of retaliation as a leverage in future negotiations.
''They'll probably announce a list that will go into effect on Jan. 1, and then use it as negotiating leverage as a last-minute deal is made,'' said James Langlois, executive director of the National Apparel and Textile Association in Washington.
David Lampton, president of New York's National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, agreed that a deal will probably be sealed at the last minute, judging from their usual pattern.
''The negotiations go down to the wire and then, when the cost of escalation goes too high, at the 11th hour and 59th minute, they cut a face-saving deal that is minimally satisfactory to each side but doesn't resolve the problem,'' said Mr. Lampton.
He said he isn't familiar with the details of the textile talks.
The sessions reportedly are to resume later this month right before the Dec. 31 expiration date.
China's huge textile sales to the United States have long been a sensitive point for U.S. trade negotiators eager to reduce Washington's swelling trade deficit.
Washington said its 1995 trade deficit with China was $35 billion, making trade a major issue in ties that have been strained by disagreement over Taiwan, weapons sales, nuclear proliferation and intellectual property rights.