US Congress Considers Duty-Free Garment Access

A draft law brought before the lower chamber of the US legislature Friday would offer extensive duty-free access for Cambodia-produced garments.

Cambodia, currently the fifth-larg­est exporter of garments to the US, has lobbied US lawmakers to reduce tariffs on clothing produced here, fearing that unfettered competition from countries such as China could reduce Cambodia’s US market share.

When US import quotas on garments expired in 2005, the US placed controls on specific imports of clothing from China, but these safeguards are due to expire at the end of next year.

The bill, dubbed the New Part­nership for Development Act, would eliminate tariffs on trousers, shirts and coats imported at 2007 levels from Cambodia and Bangladesh.

While offering unlimited duty-free access to other least developed countries, the bill would allow Cam­bodia and Bangladesh to increase the volume of duty-free imports by 15 percent a year if they respect labor rights.

In the first five months of 2007, Cambodian clothing exports in­creased 17.9 percent, generating rev­enues of $984.9 million, of which $738.28 million came from exports to the US, according to Thon Virak, deputy director of the Commerce Min­istry’s foreign trade department.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Cambodian Garment Manufac­turers Association, said the bill would give Cambodia advantages over competitors in Asia. “I think the bill will put us in a better position to compete with Vietnam and China,” he said.

Commerce Minister Cham Pra­sidh, who led a seven-man delegation to the US in July, said he was too busy to comment. However a ministry official with knowledge of the visit said that the delegation did not detect strong opposition in Washington to providing preferential access to Cambodian garments.

“As usual, the [US] textile states try to protect themselves, like South and North Carolina and some others, but we try to explain to them that we are not doing anything to harm their business,” he said.

Some in US Congress are op­posed to preferential access deals, preferring negotiations via the World Trade Organization. How­ever the Cambodian official said the bill did not yet appear to have clear opponents.

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