Silky, sexy slips from China may be hard to find in your favorite lingerie shop this year if U.S. and Chinese trade officials don't resolve their latest textile dispute.
While quotas on more than $1 billion of Chinese silk imports evaporated at the end of December, U.S. trade officials aren't relinquishing a requirement that visas accompany the silken goods.That means importers can't bring in any silk products unless the item is accompanied by a visa issued by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation. And the ministry stopped issuing them at the end of last year.
U.S. imports of silk underwear, dresses, shirts and other garments totaled $1.4 billion for the year ending October 1997.
''Everyone is upset . . . no one can get their goods in. The trade is stopped,'' said Laura Jones, executive director of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel in New York City.
CHINESE QUESTION NEED
Chinese officials insist that with no more quotas, no visas should be required. So textile bureaucrats in Chinese provinces are no longer issuing the licenses that let products pass through U.S. borders.
''There was an understanding that if the silk agreement expires, a visa is unnecessary,'' said a trade official at the Chinese Embassy in Washington who declined to be identified. He was referring to the U.S.-Chinese bilateral textile pact that came into play in early 1997.
The four-year agreement included a provision to drop quotas on silk products at the end of 1997.
The Chinese trade official said the Chinese are not happy. Last month, trade officials in Beijing sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative's Office asking it to drop the requirement for the visas.
He said he expected the dispute would be aired in Beijing next week when trade officials meet to discuss another thorny issue - transshipments. The U.S. government is alleging that China transshipped about $1 million worth of goods through Hong Kong in 1996 to avoid quotas on Chinese products.
OFFICIALS DEFEND NEED
U.S. government officials said the Chinese have known since the bilateral pact was settled last January that visas for silk products are required under the separate visa arrangement that covers all Chinese textile and apparel imports.
''It's unfortunate on their part, that they've stopped issuing the visas,'' said Troy Cribb, chairwoman of the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, the federal agency known as Cita that oversees the U.S. textile program. ''I'm sure the importers are frustrated, but I think their anger is misdirected. There would be no bumps in the road if China was issuing the visas.''
Ms. Cribb confirmed the issue will be discussed at the talks in Beijing next week.
GOODS COUNT DESIRED
Visas are used by the U.S. government to tally the number of imports from various countries. Their purpose is to help cut down on transshipments, the routing of goods through a third country to avoid U.S. quotas, and other illegal transactions.
The placement of quotas on China's silk trade has been controversial since the restrictions were negotiated as part of the previous bilateral textile pact that began in 1994.
Importers and retailers questioned the need for quotas on silk apparel when the United States has no domestic silk industry to protect. At the same time, U.S. textile negotiators said Chinese silk apparel had become price competitive with U.S.-made cotton and man-made fiber garments. Items such as scarves, hosiery and gloves were excluded from the quotas.
China remains the major supplier of U.S. silk products. It shipped $1.4 billion worth of the goods to U.S. buyers for the year ending October 1997, up 19 percent from the previous year. Total U.S. imports of silk garments tallied $1.7 billion for the same period.