A GOLDEN PLAN: Cambodia has embarked on a new bottom-up strategy to revive the country's famous golden thread silk industry and boost exports of yarn and niche silk products to the U.S., Europe and other lucrative markets, the country's minister for women's affairs, Ing Kantha Phavi, said last month.

"We were one of the big exporters before 1970, but with the war, other countries — Thailand, China — took over," Ing said while in Geneva. "We would like to renew this [Cambodian] quality label. We produce a very high-quality soft, shiny and golden silk."

China and Japan are already shaping up as major buyers of Cambodian silk yarn, as are the U.S., the European Union — in particular, Germany, France and Italy — Switzerland, Singapore and Australia, for silk scarves, handbags and furnishings such as cushion covers.

The Cambodian official pointed out that the products can enter tariff-free in major markets such as the EU, providing they satisfy rules of origin criteria and use eco-friendly Azo-Free Dyes.

According to the Geneva-based International Trade Center, Cambodian silk products also enter the U.S. duty-free under the tariff-free categories of hand-loomed and traditional items. The ITC, which has provided aid funds to help revive the Cambodian industry, said the objective is to increase exports in five years to $25 million, up from $4 million today.

To boost production, the government plans to secure more land to increase the planting of mulberry trees and hire sericulture experts to improve the rearing techniques and enhance the quality of the silk. The number of silk yarn producers is projected to increase from 2,000 to 6,000, but the number of weavers — known for their skills — is expected to remain unchanged at around 20,000.

TAIWAN TOWEL DISPUTE: Taiwan has started World Trade Organization proceedings to halt what it said is a surge in imports of towels from China.

The move could result in Taiwan imposing punitive safeguard quotas if the two sides fail to resolve their differences within 60 days. In a complaint filed with the WTO's Committee on Safeguards this month, Taiwan said towel imports are coming from China "in such increased quantities as to cause market disruption to the domestic producers."

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