WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel industry leaders from over 25 countries will convene in Geneva this weekend to hash out their differences on trade issues and brainstorm about a quota-free world in 2005 and beyond.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing global trade talks among 144 World Trade Organization member nations, textile and apparel trade organizations will begin a global dialogue on such issues as tariff reductions and quota phaseout and strive to find "common ground," according to Francesco Marchi, director of economic affairs at Euratex, an alliance of all of the national textile and apparel lobbying groups in the European Union. That won’t be an easy task, however.

"This if the first [meeting] to allow everybody an exchange on their real problems and threats," Marchi said. "It will not be easy, but we hope that industries are less dogmatic than governments and that some breakthrough will be realized or that at least people leaving the conference will have the feeling of a better understanding of each others’ positions."

Many representatives from developing countries who will attend the Euratex meeting have been pressuring the European Union and U.S. to speed up the apparel and textile quota phaseout, which is slated to be complete on Dec. 31, 2004.

Textile and apparel leaders from such developing countries as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Pakistan will participate in this weekend’s meeting. They will sit down at the table with representatives from industrialized nations, including Austria, Germany, Italy, the U.S., France and the U.K.

The Euratex session coincides with a meeting of 14 Like-Minded Group developing nations. Representatives plan to meet with WTO Director General Supachai Panitpachkdi on Saturday and are expected to discuss such issues as accelerating the phaseout of quotas on textiles and apparel.

The U.S., in the context of WTO talks, has steadfastly held that it will not accelerate the quota phaseout, which began in 1995 as a result of the Uruguay Round of GATT that created the WTO.

WTO members have already missed two deadlines to find solutions to developing country concerns related to immediate enhanced market access through increases in quota growth rates. A resolution was due by July 31.Marchi said Euratex members are opposed to accelerating the phaseout of quotas.

"Sincerely, I do not understand the non-Chinese countries, as the growth-on-growth [rates] will benefit firstly and mainly China," he said.

China and its dominance in the global textile and apparel market will also be a key topic of the meeting. Marchi said he was still holding out hope that a China delegation would attend, although he had not yet received a reply.

The World Bank estimates that China could control nearly 50 percent of the world textile and apparel market by 2010, which poses a serious threat to developing countries, which have developed sustainable industries based on the quota system in place. Instead of fighting for an extension of quotas, however, these developing countries are attempting to carve out a stronghold in industrialized markets before 2005.

"This will be a useful meeting to help focus strategies on making companies competitive after 2005," said Stephen Lamar, vice president of the Washington-based American Apparel & Footwear Association, who will attend the meeting in Geneva.

Lamar said he will emphasize the importance of lowering tariff peaks in the U.S., which can be as high as 30 percent on wool products, as well as seamless transactions at the borders.

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