State Department officials said yesterday they still hope to reach a new agreement on Chinese textile imports before Secretary of State George P. Shultz visits Peking next month despite an angry reaction from China to the publication of proposed new import quotas on textile imports to the United States.
The Chinese, in a statement issued Sunday in Peking, warned it would "respond strongly to safeguard our own interest" if the United States acted on its own to limit entry of Chinese-made apparel.
The statement was seen here as a veiled threat by the Peking government that it might limit purchases of U.S. goods, particularly agricultural imports such as cotton, wood and corn that U.S. farmers are anxious to sell overseas. These hints were dropped recently to American businessmen visiting Peking.
American negotiators left yesterday for Peking to resume the long-stalled talks, set to run from Jan. 6 to 13, for a new agreement on the amount of clothing and other textiles that China can sell to the United States. The old agreement expired Friday.
With China demanding a larger share of the U.S. market for its emerging textile industry and the textile manufacturers in the United States calling for greater trade barriers to protect their ailing companies from foreign imports, many trade observers here feel it is unlikely that an agreement can be reached.
The Carter administration imposed unilateral quotas in 1979 after being unable to come to terms with the Chinese, but negotiations that led to the agreement that expired with the new year were resumed later.
"Because textiles are important to both our economies, negotiations have not been easy," said Alan Romberg, deputy spokesman for the State Department.
"It is the U.S. government's sincere desire to continue addressing our textile trade policies through a mutually aceptable agreement as we have done during the past three years," he said.
Peking's main complaint appeared to be that the United States published on its own and while negotiations are still underway a list of quotas to take effect if no new agreement is reached by Jan. 15--two days after the talks are set to end.
"This is an evident violation of the principle of negotiations on the basis of equality. We are absolutely against it," said the official news agency Xinhua, quoting a leading member of the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade.
"While the negotiations are still in progress," Xinhua continued, "the U.S. side should not, and has no reason to, impose unilateral restrictions on China's textile exports."
The list was published in the Dec. 28 Federal Register, presumably to alert U.S. textile importers of potential cutbacks in the amount that China would be able top sell here.
But non-governmental China-watchers here said the notification appeared to be a slap in the face to Peking, which considers textiles a major import on which it is building much of its economic growth and which believes it deserves a larger share of the U.S. market.
Roger W. Sullivan, executive vice president of the National Council for U.S.-China Trade said it would have been better as far as the Chinese are concerned for the American negotiators to conduct the talks, pronounce them a failure and then publish the new quotas.
China has become over the past four years the fourth largest supplier of textiles to the United States--behind Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan--and accounts for about 10 percent of all U.S. textile imports. Under new agreements, imports from the three largest suppliers will increase by less than one percent--a figure China said it is unwilling to accept. The Peking government apparently wants an increase of about 6 percent in its textile imports to the U.S.
Textile exports supply about 25 percent of all China's foreign exchange. The Peking government, moreover, remains acutely aware of its $655 million balance of payments deficit with the United States and is looking to increased textile sales to bring its trade with America closer into balance.
Chinese textile imports to the United States amounted to $750.5 million during the first 10 months of 1982, an increase of more than $200 million over all of 1981.
According to the Associated Press in Peking, chief U.S. negotiator Peter Murphy said when the talks opened in August that the growth of Chinese textile exports to the United States had been "quite amazing"--despite the recession, it increased 40 percent in 1980, 73 percent in 1981 and 45 percent in the 12 months that ended last June.
The Chinese, however, said they felt they had made major concessions in the last agreement three years ago, but that the United States has not responded positively in the three rounds of talks held so far.