By  on June 23, 2006

WASHINGTON — Trade ministers meeting in Geneva next week in an attempt to hammer out a basic framework for the World Trade Organization's Doha talks have their work cut out for them, as illustrated by new draft text on how reducing tariffs on industrial goods, including textiles and apparel, will be handled.

In his introduction to the draft, Don Stephenson, the Canadian WTO ambassador who is head of the negotiating committee for industrial goods, said there has been a failure "to find consensus on many important issues." The same could be said for the whole trade round, which has been held up primarily over agricultural issues.

Stephenson's comments accompanying the draft text for industrial goods cast doubt on a Turkish proposal for separate apparel and textiles talks that might result in higher tariffs than those on other industrial goods.

"While this proposal enjoys the support of some [WTO] members, it is also firmly opposed by many others," he said. "It is clear that the proponents will be challenged to garner sufficient support for this proposal."

Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, bristled at the comment and vowed to continue the push for apparel and textiles to be treated independently.

"It's just nonsense to include this type of editorial statement in a report within this context," Tantillo said.

AMTAC and other textile concerns want so-called "sectoral" talks in order to protect the domestic industry and its customers in the Western Hemisphere, particularly from low-cost imports from non-market economies such as China and Vietnam.

U.S. officials have so far avoided clear support for separate talks.

"At this point, we don't know what will be the best way to deal with these complicated textile and apparel issues, and so what we want to do is to continue the discussion with all of the parties involved and not prejudge exactly what the form of a solution would be," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier said on a conference call with reporters.

Stephen Lamar, senior vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, "They're very far from endorsing this. If they really wanted to put some juice behind this, you would have seen them come out with a much stronger statement."

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