Commerce Disruption: Harder to Tell Rich from Poor
Cheap clothes from China are again making it difficult to distinguish rich from poor in America.
According to a recent AP story: “The Bush administration is re-imposing quotas on three categories of clothing imports from China, responding to complaints from domestic producers that a surge of Chinese imports was threatening thousands of U.S. jobs.” The decision was led by the Commerce Department objecting that too much commerce from China was “disrupting the American market.” News reports were silent regarding American clothes buyer’s perspective on this “disruption.”
Not mentioned in the story were the millions of low- and middle-income Americans who recently purchased this “surge” of stylish shirts and pants from China. These people could clearly have found clothes at similar prices in their local St. Vincent de Paul or perhaps at Ross Dress-for-Less. Or they could have made do with the probably adequate clothing they already own.
Instead, millions rushed to buy new clothes from China, but forgot to call their Congressmen to thank them for the privilege. These newly stylish low- and middle-income Americans also forgot to issue press releases announcing their surprise at finding quality clothes at prices they could afford. They forgot to hold press conferences with free donuts for local reporters. So reporters munched donuts offered at press conferences held by groups like the National Council of Textile Organizations.
Pro-trade donuts were available at the United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel press conference. There Executive Director Laura Jones noted that imports from China declined in March after surging in January and February. According to the AP story Jones said the administration “chose to ignore all the comments filed by U.S. retailers arguing against the action.”
So companies that sell imported clothes are lined up against the textile companies that make fabric and clothes in the United States. Commerce Department officials and concerned politicians in the Bush Administration and Congress evaluate the claims made by these competing interests. Affected companies and their consultants issue press releases on the debate over free trade in clothing.
But is anyone left out of this trade policy dance? Who speaks for or even reports on the benefits to people in China who make the clothes Americans wear? Who speaks for or even reports on the millions more around the world (including in American) who make the goods and services Chinese workers purchase with wages earned making clothes for Americans?
And who speaks for the millions of everyday Americans now more nattily attired? The poor may always be with us, but at least for a few months this year they could dress in comfort and style.