PARIS — Quotas on textiles and clothing are to be phased out by World Trade Organization members in January 2005. The move will affect some $375 billion worth of international trade between 146 countries and the global ramifications are mind-boggling.

In an effort to help executives understand the change, a two-day summit called "The Future of Textiles and Clothing After 2005" kicks off today at the Charlemagne conference center in Brussels. About 800 people are expected to attend back-to-back sessions featuring experts from manufacturing, retail and trade sectors, government, academia, banking and trade unions.

The summit is an initiative of the European Union’s commissioner for trade, Pascal Lamy, who will preside over today’s opening session exploring the challenges and benefits of quota elimination. Also on the panel are Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, director general of the WTO; Carrefour chairman and chief executive Daniel Bernard; Lu Fuyuan, China’s minister of foreign trade, and Filiep Libeert, president of Euratex, the European textiles and clothing industry association.

On Tuesday, sessions will explore the effect of liberalized trade on sustainable development and tackle the ethical problems of child labor and basic labor rights.

Ben Ahmed, an economist at the commission’s textile negotiations unit, said the conference is designed to gather opinions "from the more protectionist to the liberal." It is also an occasion for bilateral meetings between government ministers from affected countries in the developed and developing world.

The lifting of quotas is expected to dramatically change sourcing patterns, with most U.S. firms expected to focus on doing business with a smaller number of countries after 2005. China and India are expected to be major winners, while nations without their own sources of raw materials, like Sri Lanka and most of sub-Saharan Africa, face a potential loss of apparel exports.

Textiles and clothing represent about 6 percent of world exports, with clothing exports representing some $215 billion in 2001. Dollar figures are converted from euros at current exchange rates.

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