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Washington Outlook Archive

Textile Imports Battle Heating Up

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The textile trade war is getting nasty.

As US textile manufacturing interests and some of their allies in less-developed countries appear to be making progress toward reconsideration of the Jan. 1, 2005 removal of textile quotas, importers are fighting back with political and economic pressure. Four trade associations representing major importers of textile and apparel have written to US Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick urging him to stick by a US government commitment to phase quotas out by the end of this year. Saying the US textile and apparel interest have eagerly awaited the quota phase-out, the associations said: "We must ensure that the United States and all other World Trade Organization members countries adhere to their international obligations, including the timely elimination of the global quota regime on textiles and apparel.The importers say elimination of quotas will provide companies with the ability to improve efficiencies in their sourcing and global operations, and they say this will accrue to the benefit of American consumers.

 Admitting there are some concerns in less-developed countries regarding the quota removal, the importers say those countries need to look for other opportunities to help them compete successfully in the post-quota global marketplace. They believe this can be accomplished by means of regional free trade agreements and other preferential programs.

Responding to a request by the government of Bangladesh for an emergency meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to reconsider removal of the textile and apparel quotas, J.C. Penney fired off a letter to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association threatening to reconsider doing business with Bangladesh unless its government withdraws its support for such a meeting. The American Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC) immediately blasted the Penney letter, pointing out that Bangladesh is heavily dependent on textile and apparel manufacturing just to feed its people every day. The coalition also noted that Bangladesh is an Islamic country on the front line of the war on terrorism.

The firestorm developed after the governments of Mauritius and Bangladesh formally petitioned the WTO for an emergency meeting to evaluate the impact of the proposed quota removal and other trade practices in what is likely to become a quota-free world. The WTO has responded by calling a meeting of the Heads of Delegations of several countries involved in textile trade to determine whether an emergency meeting should be called. AMTAC's executive director, Auggie Tantillo, said such a meeting is a critical first step towards finding solutions to what some textile manufacturers see as a major crisis associated with the quota phase-out. He said, "Failure to act now will mean massive job displacement in practically all countries involved in textiles and apparel production."

August 2004




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