TEXTILE IMPORTERS PUSH PLAN TO RECLASSIFY SOME PRODUCTS

TEXTILE IMPORTERS PUSH PLAN TO RECLASSIFY SOME PRODUCTS

Signs of compromise are appearing in a U.S. Customs Service dispute with importers over seizures and delays of certain textile shipments, as Commerce Department officials and importers discuss ways to reclassify certain textile products.

At issue are almost $1.5 billion worth of neckties, hats, scarves, coveralls, swimsuits, luggage and other imports that are assigned annual quota by weight rather than by number of units.Importers say they would like to see these miscellaneous textile products classified in dozens of units. They presented their case last week in Washington to the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, which oversees the classification of imports for quota purposes.

Cita, as the committee is called, supervises the implementation of bilateral restraint agreements and proposes and implements import restraints. It is made up of the chief textile negotiator of the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, and members of the departments of Commerce, Labor, State and Treasury. The committee meets formally at least once a month.

Those who attended the Washington meeting said Cita officials protested that a classification change in the textile products would require a great deal of quota renegotiation with all the exporting countries.

Importers say they are pushing the change so that Customs' standards will be the same as their own.

We are urging change to commercial measurements - square yards and dozens, said Martin Lewin, a trade lawyer at Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon, Washington.

Prices, orders and letters of credit are all in these commercial terms, said Don Brasher, an import consultant with Washington-based International Development Systems.

Mr. Brasher added that the chance of visa mistakes would be greatly reduced if products were counted by unit.

The Chinese don't seem to be able to weigh the goods properly, he said. There have been a number of problems with imports coming in from China with visas for the wrong weight, he said.

It takes from a week to two months to get through Customs with goods that have weight mistakes, said Elizabeth DeMarco, a luggage importer with A.D. Sutton & Sons of New York.

Renegotiating the 43 bilateral agreements the United States currently has with textile exporting nations would be extremely difficult but not impossible, said Brian Fennessy, a specialist in Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel.

Reallocating weight quotas among all the individual products that are now lumped together would be an even greater problem, he said.

There are scarves, neckties, little bows and lots of little items you just can't break out, he said.

Some Commerce officials and importers, however, are discussing a compromise that would take the most problematic products out of the basket of goods now under quota by weight, Mr. Fennessy said.

For example, a product like swimwear might be classified under the pant category and be given a numerical quota, he said. This still would involve bilateral renegotiation, but would alleviate the difficulties of making new categories for all products now in the basket.

U.S. Customs, which has come under fire for seizing products only slightly over weight, changed its seizure standards near the end of last month. Customs currently seizes only goods that are more than 10 percent over the stipulated weight, as long as the importer in question is a first time offender, a Customs official said.

But seizures are only half the problem, Mr. Brasher said. The visa waivers required for excesses under 10 percent are still causing havoc for the import community, he said.

Another Customs official, who also wished to remain unnamed, noted that seizures and detainments have fallen substantially in recent months - numbering 26 overweight seizures in December 1987, from a high of 76 in October.

The remaining violators tend to be repeat offenders, he said.

The same people are doing it time and time again. They just don't care, the official said.