BRUSSELS — The end of textile and clothing quotas only will be successful in liberalizing trade if World Trade Organization countries also eliminate nontariff barriers and give preferential treatment to countries likely to be hardest hit by the changes, trade officials said at the opening of a two-day European Commission-sponsored conference Monday.

European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy set the stage by noting the quota system that has governed the world apparel trade for four decades is to end in less than 20 months. In January 2005, after a 10-year phaseout called for by the WTO’s Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, importing countries will no longer be allowed to discriminate against exporters.

While?eradicating quotas is a noble and necessary goal, Lamy said, "Opening markets is not just a matter of abolishing quotas." He urged WTO members to fight other obstacles such as stringent labeling requirements, minimum import prices and customs duties unrelated to the real import value.

"We will have to pay nontariff barriers greater attention," he added.

The meeting brought together more than 800 participants representing governments, industry, trade unions and nongovernmental organizations from more than 70 countries. Kipkorir Aly Azad Rana, the WTO’s deputy director-general in charge of textiles, said reactions to the coming change vary from anxiety and trepidation for some to hopeful expectations for others.

To give the world’s poorest countries time to adjust to the changes, Lamy urged that developed nations continue to offer some preferential treatment for these nations. One example he cited was regional trade agreements, such as a potential EU-Mediterranean free-trade area to be created by 2010.

His concerns were echoed by WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, who argued that removing quotas will leave many developing countries that are dependent on textile exports "highly vulnerable" unless support measures are maintained and strengthened.

"The benefits of developing countries may not be spread evenly," said Pakistan Trade Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan.

The second day of the conference will examine the effects of liberalization on sustainable development and promoting basic labor rights.

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