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House Members Seek Bush Support on Trade

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman recently signaled the U.S. might be more receptive to the EU's initiative.

WASHINGTON — A group of 24 House Textile Caucus members sent a letter to President Bush on Thursday imploring him to urge global trade ministers to treat textiles and apparel independently in trade talks.

Textile-state lawmakers also called on the administration to oppose the European Union-led initiative to grant duty-free and quota-free access to least-developed countries. The letter came in advance of a critical World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong next week that will bring together 149 trade ministers seeking to forge a blueprint for a global accord to reduce and eliminate global tariffs.

“In essence, what [a separate sectoral] means is a separation of the textile negotiations … because it is a sensitive area and because a general formula dealing with industrialized tariffs and nontariff issues would be insufficient to deal with the unique problems associated with this sector,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “It would also give us a forum to talk about items beyond tariffs, such as a need for an extended safeguard mechanism.”

The U.S. recently reached an import restraint agreement with China covering $6 billion worth of apparel and textile imports, and U.S textile associations are pushing for an extension of the mechanism beyond its expiration date of the end of 2008.

On the European initiative, Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, said: “It would allow countries such as Bangladesh, which are already competitive in textiles and who are expanding exports to the U.S., to enter the U.S. with zero duties and quotas, which would be harmful to our preferential trading partners.”

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman recently signaled the U.S. might be more receptive to the EU’s initiative.