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Future Of Trade Liberalization Talks In Serious Doubt

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Future of Trade Liberalization Talks in Serious DoubtUS textile manufacturers and cotton producers were pleased with the September 14 collapse of World Trade Organization (WTO) trade liberalization talks in Cancun, Mexico, but importers of textiles and apparel, and retailers said it was a serious blow to consumers. As broad differences between the developed and developing nations surfaced and cut the talks short, negotiators said the future of the WTOs Doha Round of trade liberalization negotiations, due to be completed by January 2005, was in serious doubt.When the talks collapsed, US Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick issued a bitter statement saying the US was prepared to negotiate in good faith, but that other countries were not willing to work toward narrowing gaps in their positions on trade.Zoellick said, Whether developed or developing, there were can do and wont do countries here. The rhetoric of the wont do overwhelmed the concerted efforts of the can do. He said that useful compromise must be reached during the remaining course of the overall talks if the trade liberalization effort is to succeed.US textile and cotton representatives monitoring the meetings were pleased to see the talks end in disarray. Robert W. Greene, chairman of the National Cotton Council, accused African nations of trying to gut the US cotton programs. He said, It was a testimony to our negotiators that they saw through the rhetoric and did not lose sight of the goals of the WTO negotiations, namely, greater reciprocal trade liberalization. Greene warned that a bad agreement would bring substantial damage to the entire US cotton industry.Auggie Tantillo, Washington coordinator for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said that if the talks had moved forward, the final result would have mandated further substantial reductions if not total elimination of US tariffs in practically all manufacturing sectors. He said that as the talks stalled it became evident the developing countries were demanding substantial concessions with regard to market access without a willingness to provide equal reciprocity in terms of access to their own markets. He said concessions offered by the US and Europe were not sufficient to satisfy trade ministers from the developing countries, who, he said, were more interested in entitlements to export more products to the developed countries rather than reciprocal market access.Cass Johnson, interim president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said the breakdown of the talks renders the future of the Doha Round negotiations problematic. He said the proposed draft document that was to serve as a guide for the negotiations contained loopholes benefiting developing nations that would replace any notion of equity and reciprocity for all. With its manufacturing sector experiencing major job losses, he said the US no longer is in any position to just give, give, give anymore.US importers of textiles and apparel saw the collapse in a different light. The National Retail Federation (NRF) issued a statement saying American consumers and developing nations exporters are the real losers. Noting that a number of developing-nation trade ministers said they would seek individual free trade agreements with the US in lieu of a WTO agreement, NRF Senior Vice President of Government Relations Steve Pfister said free trade agreements do not provide the developing countries with the kind of tariff-free access to the US market that the multilateral process would have yielded. He said free trade agreements have rules of origin that frequently erase any benefits of tariff elimination. Nonetheless, Pfister held out the hope that the negotiations could be resumed and that WTO members could conclude the round of negotiations successfully by the January 2005 deadline.By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent September 2003