China’s construction boom provides numerous opportunities for Georgia carpet manufacturers to export their product, James C. Leonard, deputy assistant secretary for textiles, apparel and consumer goods at the U.S. Department of Commerce, told attendees of the MesseFrankfurt Inc.’s biennial textile conference held in Atlanta last week.

“Georgia manufacturers can’t compete in the apparel industry in China, but there is a huge market for carpet,” he said during his keynote address. Mr. Leonard had just returned from visiting Beijing and Hong Kong before attending the conference that drew 5,000 attendees from around the world.

Although he focused primarily on China during his remarks, he covered other issues including the elimination on Jan 1, 2005 of all duties and tariffs on the products of World Trade Organization members, excluding China and the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Even though he visits China regularly, he still seemed amazed by the construction he saw there, particularly in Beijing. “It is hard to explain the tremendous changes going on in Beijing,” Mr. Leonard said, adding that in terms of major buildings it was rapidly catching up to London and New York.

Georgia companies that wish to do business in China must provide value-added products because it is difficult to compete on pricing, he said. Despite the problems, he said that aggressive exporters of carpet, specialty yarns and upholstery should be successful.

“The U.S. cannot compete in exporting sheets, towels and print cloth, but we are competitive in value-added products like carpets. There is a market over there, but you have to work it,” he said.

While the opportunities for U.S. exporters seem obvious, he added that he was wary about two-way textile trade with China. Already, the U.S. has put in place duties on imports of knitting, brassieres and dressing gowns.

He explained that as part of China’s accession to the WTO, a safeguard mechanism was put in place to allow for duties to be imposed based on the last bilateral agreement with China if Chinese products disrupted the U.S. market.

He also said that the Commerce Department’s efforts to attract more Chinese businesspeople to visit the U.S. in search of textile home furnishings, yarn and fabrics had not found much support.

Concerning CAFTA, he said that the textile industry was opposed to the treaty and he remained skeptical that it would pass through the U.S. Congress because of a strong lobbying effort against it.

Among the countries present at the three-day conference were Belgium Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovenia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

To learn more about the conference, call Daniel McKinnon, director of MesseFrankfurt’s Atlanta office, at (770) 989-5320.