Doyle: More limits on Chinese imports likely won’t affect Wisconsin exports

By Joanne M. Haas

MADISON — The Bush administration’s expected move to intensify scrutiny on imports of Chinese clothing should not affect the export relationships initiated in that country by Wisconsin officials and business leaders during the late March trade mission, Gov. Jim Doyle said Tuesday.

“I’ve been saying all along we want to export to China, but we need to have it be fair — these (trade) agreements need to be enforced fairly,” the Democratic governor told WisBusiness in a Tuesday interview. “And textiles really has been hit hard by unfair enforcement of those agreements.”

American manufacturers have alleged China is using currency manipulation and a government subsidy to create a nearly $125 billion trade surplus with the United States. Chinese officials, on the other hand, reportedly see the Bush administration’s latest actions to restrict clothing imports as pure presidential campaign politics — meant to soften the blow of the country’s loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs and gain ground in a tight race with Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry.

Kerry has routinely charged the Bush administration with failing the American worker by not enforcing trade agreements and allowing the outsourcing of jobs in this country to foreign lands.

What has manufacturers most worried is what might happen when the global quotas on textiles expire with the end of the year. Some American companies are expecting an onslaught of Chinese apparel, made for far cheaper costs by lower-paid workers, in conditions Doyle and other state delegation members urged be improved during their March trip.

“Here in Wisconsin, a number of businesses — Wigwam Socks (of Sheboygan) for example — is under tremendous pressure because the costs of China (production) are actually going down. They are not going up because of the currency manipulation and other things,” Doyle says. “We know that we’re never going to match labor costs, and I don’t think we want people working for those kinds of wages. But we shouldn’t have to on top of that, face the other kinds of barriers that are put up.

“The textile industry has spoken out very strongly on this that the competition is not fair,” he says.

Grant Aldonas, the U.S. undersecretary for commerce, was in Beijing today and said his message to Chinese trade leaders was to look for new American limits on Chinese imports yet this month. He also told reporters American textile manufacturers would be on the lookout for any hints of piracy or market bumps after the first of the new year

Doyle in March led an 80-member trade mission to China, where Wisconsin’s agricultural, biotechnology, construction, insurance and other businesses were able to establish contacts members believe will lead to lucrative arrangements.

The business development trip included stops in Shanghai, Nanjing, Hong Kong and Beijing. The purpose of the trip was to build relationships to usher into the country some of Wisconsin’s products — especially agriculture and manufacturing offerings — viewed as ideal for the 100 million middle-class Chinese residents who are among the country’s 1.3 billion total population living in one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

During a summer follow-up meeting with delegates, some businesses reported having secured deals while others have had follow-up contacts and even a couple are planning their own return trips. China also is lagging in insurance and financial services, an area Doyle seems certain Wisconsin’s strengths can fill.

Last year, Wisconsin exports to China jumped more than 50 percent, making it among Wisconsin’s fastest growing markets.