WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials have taken a preliminary step toward imposing a trade safeguard that would protect domestic sock manufacturers against imports from Honduras, which have spiked as a result of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
If finalized, the move would reinstate tariffs on socks imported from Honduras for up to three years, helping to keep domestic socks more competitive on price.
Lawmakers representing sock manufacturers have pressed for the safeguard since agreeing to support CAFTA in a high-pressure vote two years ago.
But the Bush administration has resisted, citing a lack of evidence that Central American imports are damaging the U.S. industry.
Friday's announcement that the government would open a review of the sock trade data for Honduras signaled a possible change in course. The Commerce Department said the decision is an early step allowing the government to more closely examine whether a safeguard is warranted. But Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt called it ''welcome news'' and said it showed that the administration realizes the U.S. sock manufacturers are getting hurt.
''The numbers don't lie,'' said Aderholt, whose district includes the self-proclaimed ''Sock Capital of the World'' in Fort Payne, Alabama. ''Imports have been on the rise while domestic production has declined.''
Honduras accounts for about a third of all CAFTA sock imports, sending nearly 19 million dozen pairs of socks to the United States in the 12 months ending in May, more than 50 percent over the previous 12-month period, according to government statistics.
In overall numbers, Honduras lags far behind countries like China, which imports nearly 60 million dozen pairs, and Pakistan, which imports nearly 45 million dozen pairs. Still, U.S. sock manufacturers have warned that recent corporate decisions to relocate production in Honduras will push the country's imports far higher.