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US-China textile deal still possible: Portman


WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters): The United States still hopes it can reach an agreement that would regulate booming clothing and textile imports from China but is disappointed Beijing rejected a "very generous proposal" this week, the chief US negotiator said yesterday.
US Trade Representative Rob Portman said the remaining differences, "with one exception which I'm not going to tell you about because we're still negotiating it," were not significant. "I would say we're very close," he said.
US and Chinese negotiators failed to reach an agreement in a fourth round of talks Wednesday and Thursday in Beijing. US industry groups had high hopes for a deal after the two sides made good progress in the previous round.
China's clothing and textile exports to the United States jumped 54 per cent in the first eight months of 2005 to $17.7 billion. The surge followed the end of a global textile quota system on January 1 as the result of a 1994 world trade deal.
"We had a very generous proposal for the Chinese but it was not generous enough for them," Portman told reporters. "Frankly, I'm disappointed. I was ready and willing to fly the 22 hours to Beijing, and the 22 hours back, in order to finalise" a deal.
Portman said he remained "forever hopeful" the two sides could strike a deal. A second US trade official who spoke on condition he not be identified, said the two sides had not discussed dates for a fifth round of talks.
The measure allows member countries to cap the growth in China's textile and clothing shipments at 7.5 per cent when there is a market- disrupting surge.
The United States wants China to negotiate a comprehensive agreement governing clothing and textile trade until the end of 2008, when the safeguard measure expires, in order to provide more predictability for industry on both sides.
The main sticking point this week was Beijing's demand that new quotas increase 20 percent in 2007 and 30 per cent in 2008, industry officials said. The United States offered 12.5 per cent growth in 2007 and 14 per cent in 2008, they said.
Portman also did not mention any specific growth rates. But he indicated Washington was prepared to accept an agreement that would allow more growth than the 7.5 per cent increase it provides under the safeguard for individual products.
"Chinese manufacturers, and the very significant employment they provide in China, will now face-if we cannot reach an agreement-a very unpredictable future with lower percentage increases," Portman said.