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Separate Textile Trade Talks Sought

A coalition of 97 apparel and textile industry groups is pushing the countries of the World Trade Organization to address textiles separately in the current round of global trade talks.

WASHINGTON — A coalition of 97 apparel and textile industry groups is pushing the countries of the World Trade Organization to address textiles separately in the current round of global trade talks.

The call for a special textile sectoral from the Global Alliance for Fair Textile Trade comes as trade officials throughout the world rush to lay the groundwork for a December WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong. That meeting is intended to produce a framework that will help the Doha round of trade talks wrap up by the end of 2006.

“We expect that governments will make textiles a major issue in Hong Kong and we’ve presented this proposal in an effort to help focus countries in the weeks leading up to the ministerial,” said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations on a conference call from Geneva, where the coalition was meeting.

A U.S. trade official said, “The current [Doha Development Agenda] text does call for sectoral discussions. The United States still has to determine which products should receive sectoral discussions.”

The Doha talks could eventually reorder international business by reducing tariffs and other trade barriers, boosting profits for retailers, but also endangering jobs at domestic textile producers. The talks currently focus on three areas — agricultural goods, services and nonagricultural goods, including apparel and textiles.

“What might be good for paper products or steel or chemicals won’t necessarily address the very sensitive aspects of the textile area, such as the substantial preferential trading arrangements,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition on the call.

Many nations in Africa, the Caribbean Basin and the Andean region, already benefit from reduced apparel and textile tariffs through preference programs, an edge that would be eroded if global tariff rates fell.

Tantillo also envisions the separate textile negotiations as a forum to consider restraints on large apparel and textile producers, such as China.

“We do have to discuss this issue of monopolization by one or two players, damaging the economies of just about every developing country and every region of the world and whether or not there needs to be some sort of system in place to prevent that going beyond 2008,” he said.

Pulling textiles and apparel into separate talks could be damaging to the overall negotiations, said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, which is not part of the coalition that proposed the idea.