PRACTICAL beginners' guide Importing Garments Through Hongkong comes complete with cartoons and comprehensive tables. It peppers rules, advice and pitfalls with fictional anecdotes and attempts to specify the limits of accountability between importer and vendor. With his book, author David Birnbaum claims a domestic manufacturer with no import experience can find a reliable agent, have duplicates produced, place orders and expect to receive quality merchandise on time at competitive prices in his very first season. He takes readers through what a good agent should be, step-by-step pointers on how to go about finding a Hongkong agent from thousands of kilometres away and what to look out for in negotiations, production and shipment. Pages are devoted to finding quotas. Also, what an agent can expect from you is also covered. Under this, Mr Birnbaum discusses dealing with minimums; payment for goods; and arranging external credit lines with banks or factors. There are also details on international terms of payment, import and tariff regulations, plus a chapter on China and comprehensive quota lists. His emphasis on the role of staff, at home and overseas, will touch a cord with all businessmen involved in cross-border dealings. ''The job specifications an importer needs are generally more demanding. Import professionals must have experience dealing with people of different cultures. They must be able to understand just what the overseas agent or manufacturer means,'' he says. ''This is not always easy. There are many countries where the importer knows he cannot accept 'yes' for an answer, or where the statement 'no problem' translates as 'I have no idea what you are talking about' .'' Horror stories are cited - such as the shipment of 12,000 T-shirts with necks too narrow to put a head through and, more awful still, an order of 300 dozen cashmere sweaters that came through as boxes of sand - but with documents in order, so the bank released funds. In this section, Mr Birnbaum looks at problems of quality and lists industry standards (slubs on the front of a blouse are unacceptable, those on the back just above the hem may not be). He warns to take a rational attitude - as you get what you pay for. In certain instances in textiles, quality tends to be poorer in China - two per cent shrinkage, including washing, may be feasible in Hongkong or Japan, but fabric woven, dyed and finished in China will shrink at least five to seven per cent even after finishing. Comfort on what to do when things go wrong - a consignment of green shirts that comes in blue, or is 89 days late - is cold, if practical. ''What do you do? In the good old days the customer meant something; he had rights. Unfortunately, under current namby-pamby international regulations, in the event of serious quality problems you are no longer permitted to castrate the maker. ''You will have to settle for something else. You put in a claim.''