WASHINGTON — Turkey is trying to “get out of the freezer” with the U.S. before the elimination of global quotas on apparel and textiles in 2005.
That’s how Ziya Sukun, executive director of the Turkish apparel promotions group ITKIB Association Inc., characterized trade relations with the U.S. He is waiting for a thaw.
Sukun has spent the past three years lobbying U.S. lawmakers to give Turkish apparel makers a special trade status, which would give duty-free and quota-free status to its exports for up to five years.
But he hit a brick wall when Turkey refused to allow the U.S. to deploy thousands of troops for a northern front in the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
That prompted the Bush administration to withdraw a multibillion-dollar economic aid package to Turkey, which reportedly included textile and apparel trade breaks.
“All projects that were working toward a Turkish-U.S. economic partnership have been frozen,” said Sukun. “We are trying to rebuild now.”
It will be a tough uphill battle for Turkey, which has been searching for trade breaks from the U.S. since the first Gulf War in 1991. The first President Bush in 1991 agreed to double Turkey’s quotas over three years, but that kind of concession is rare.
The aggressive lobbying efforts of the U.S. textile industry against handing out more trade breaks also has thwarted Turkey’s efforts.
The Turkish economy is slowly recovering from a recession and its total foreign debt stands at about $120 billion, while overall annual exports are $32 billion, according to Sukun.
Sukun said Turkey could have sustained economic growth with a bilateral free-trade pact or preferential trade program with the U.S.
The Turkish textile and apparel industry includes 16,000 companies employing about 6.5 million workers, Sukun said.
Turkey is also at a crossroads in its bid for membership in the EU, which would give it better access to U.S markets. But full EU membership could take another five to seven years, he said.
As the clock ticks down on the elimination of global apparel and textile quotas among World Trade Organization members at the end of 2004, Turkey and many other countries are grappling with how they will remain competitive against China.Sukun said he finds it hard to believe a quota-free world will exist in 2005 and beyond.
Trade is more likely to be regulated by bilateral trade pacts than by global trade arrangements in the WTO, he contended.
“There are too many different political balances,” Sukun said. “I think you can look to another era of regulated trade where bilateral arrangements will supercede global arrangements.”
The potential for Turkey lies in its ability to move its industry into value-added products, or apparel with fashion input — not just the basics, Sukun said.
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