WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel trade groups from 34 countries reached a new level of understanding on tariff and non-tariff issues in Geneva over the weekend, although one of the most contentious issues wasn’t on the table and the country that poses the biggest perceived threat did not attend.

The trade groups from such countries as Bangladesh, India, Japan, Mexico, the U.S., France, Germany and Poland, reached an informal consensus on such issues as reducing tariffs and improving the enforcement of intellectual property rights on a worldwide basis.

However, they did not discuss the controversial demands made by developing countries to accelerate the quota phaseout on textiles and apparel set to expire at the end of 2004. China — the country dominating textile and apparel import growth in the U.S — was also missing from the equation.

Francesco Marchi, director of economic affairs at Euratex, an alliance of all the national textile and apparel lobbying groups in the European Union, admitted that the "informal" meeting of global trade groups was only the "first step."

"We wanted to agree on principles and we did," said Marchi, noting that the leaders agreed to meet again before the next big World Trade Organization summit scheduled for September 2003 in Cancun, Mexico. "Once we agree on principles, then the nitty-gritty work begins. We will try to determine how far to reduce tariffs, define non-tariff barriers and identify steps to foster the proper implementation of [the WTO’s intellectual property rights agreement]."

Marchi said Euratex plans to discuss the outcome of the meetings with EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, adding that other trade groups will attempt to share the information with their respective trade negotiators.

In order for any formal declaration to be made, however, China must be a participant, Marchi stressed.

"We must have the Chinese with us to discuss other important issues," he said, noting that trade groups from China and Taiwan wanted to attend, but couldn’t because of timing.

The participants at the meeting this weekend, which took place against the backdrop of the ongoing global trade talks among 144 WTO member nations, found some common ground on severaldivisive issues."It has become clear that there is more common ground and a wider agreement on objectives among businessmen from importing and exporting countries alike than is sometimes reflected in WTO negotiations," Filiep Liebeert, president of Euratex and chairman of Vita Non-Wovens, said in a statement. "The discussions we have had in Geneva are encouraging and will help send a signal to trade negotiators that the concerns of the textile and clothing industry should be taken fully into account."

They reached a broad agreement on several issues, including the need for market access negotiations in the WTO to be based on a sectoral approach, starting from tariffs that are currently being applied to reach bound levels in the WTO.

Textile and apparel leaders reached a consensus on the need to lower tariffs during the WTO negotiations, although to what level has not been determined. Many U.S. trade groups, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, are pushing for a complete elimination of U.S. duties, while Euratex is seeking to lower tariffs to 15 percent or less and eliminate tariff peaks.

Indian trade groups, whose industry maintains very high tariffs on imports, was "more reserved" on many points, according to Marchi, although they "did not object to the principles." He said they did call for "looser wording" in the press release on the conclusions reached at the meeting.

The groups also called for improving the enforcement of intellectual property rights and more effective action against fraud and counterfeiting, without hampering trade facilitation within the context of the WTO.

There was also a consensus on the necessity to maintain antidumping laws in the event of unfair trade practices. In particular, the participants discussed the special deal China made to secure WTO membership, which allows WTO member nations to invoke safeguards and reimpose quotas on apparel and textiles through 2008.

The American Textile Manufacturers Institute has asked the U.S. to utilize the safeguard and reimpose quotas on Chinese bras, knit fabric, gloves, nightwear and luggage. The ruling is still pending.

"We all agreed we have that weapon, but we didn’t get too far on this," Marchi added. "It’s not fair when you are trying to reach common ground and understand the future of the industry worldwide to take one country and shoot at it without giving it the possibility to answer."

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