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Congressional Group Urges New Approach To Global Trade

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

As leading trade ministers gathered in Geneva this week to discuss future activities of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the bipartisan House Trade Working Group called for a "new direction in United States trade policy" that puts more emphasis on reciprocity.

The congressional group said this week's meetings "present a tremendous opportunity to help reshape the WTO and move the United States toward a new trade policy."

Calling the meetings "a timely and useful exercise," Pascal Lamy, director-general of the WTO, expressed hope that the trade ministers would provide guidance as to how they see the stalled Doha Round of trade liberalization negotiations can move forward. In his opening remarks, Lamy said, "Progress has been made on a range of technical issues across the board on the so-called 'big ticket items' which needs to be accelerated."

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who is heading up the US delegation, said he is attending the conference "for one simple reason - to help create more market opportunities for American goods and services."

At a news conference prior to the opening of the ministerial meetings, Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, one of the leaders of the trade group, said: "Those of us in Congress who have supported reforming our trade policies believe the current Doha Round is bad for the United States. Instead of expanding the WTO model and its proven damage further, we need to turn around this agenda and make trade work for all nations."

The Doha Round, initiated in 2001, has been bogged down because of major differences between the developed and developing nations on tariff-cutting and market access issues. US textile manufacturers have insisted that tariff reductions be reciprocal and that there should be sectoral negotiations, so textiles and apparel can be considered separately from  other commodities and not be used for trade-offs.

In order for the United States to be involved in future Doha Round negotiations, the President's Trade Promotion Authority, which has expired, must be renewed. The National Council of Textile Organizations has two objectives in connection with the renewal: maintenance of US textile and apparel tariffs; and some sort of a China safeguard mechanism.

The House Trade Working Group is supporting two pieces of legislation pending in Congress that are designed to reshape the US government's trade policies.

One, the Reciprocal Market Access Act, is designed to ensure that US trade negotiators achieve meaningful market access for US products. It requires the President to provide a certification to Congress in advance of agreeing to any modification of an existing duty on any product for which reciprocal market access has been obtained. It also gives the US government the right to automatically revoke any concessions if a trading nation does not live up to its commitments.

A second measure supported by the trade group, simply known as the Trade Act, requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comprehensive review of the major pacts, such as the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America-Dominican Republic FTA (CAFTA-DR) and various WTO agreements and report to Congress on whether these agreements live up to certain standards, including labor and human rights protection, safety, environmental considerations and national security. The bill would prohibit any ban on Buy American and anti-sweatshop measures. It would create a "Super Committee" chaired by the leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to work with the President on formulating negotiating plans.  It also would replace the President's Trade Promotion Authority, also called Fast Track negotiating authority, with an approach that gives Congress authority prior to negotiating any new agreement to establish mandatory negotiating objectives and ensure that they are met by trading partners.

December 1, 2009