WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Ugandan Ambassador Edith Ssempala have a difference of opinion on the elimination of global textile and apparel quotas at the end of the year.

At a joint press conference Friday championing the Senate’s recent passage of legislation that would help the poorest sub-Saharan African countries by extending special apparel duty breaks, the two officials expressed disparate views on whether or not quotas should be extended beyond 2005.

A coalition of 90 international apparel and textile organizations representing 47 countries, including a handful of African nations, held a summit in Brussels last week to coalesce around the need to extend quotas beyond 2005 and push their respective governments to request an emergency meeting of the World Trade Organization. No governments have made such a request, but Ssempala acknowledged Friday the coalition is gaining momentum.

Zoellick reiterated the Bush administration’s position on the 10-year quota phaseout and, responding to a question on whether the U.S. would support an emergency WTO session, said, “What we have to be careful about is we undertook WTO obligations and we need to fulfill our obligations. We said we would end quotas and we [have to end textile and apparel] quotas.”

Zoellick also noted that all other WTO countries, including China, made the same commitment to phase out textile and apparel quotas by Jan. 1.

Ssempala, however, reminded Zoellick that WTO countries, including Uganda, made the commitments to phase out quotas on apparel and textiles 10 years ago when China was not a member of the WTO, and, therefore, was not considered a threat.

That sentiment has changed drastically with just six months left of the quota phaseout. Many apparel and textile companies around the globe are bracing for China’s expected dominance of apparel trade and the fallout that could threaten other foreign apparel producers, causing economic upheaval in many developing countries and creating massive layoffs.

“It is [a question] that concerns us very, very much,” said Ssempala. “We know the end of quota is going to hurt Africa, and not just Africa, but the entire world except for a couple of countries like China and India. All countries in all parts of the world are waking up and they have found this [quota elimination] will be extremely hard.”Ssempala stopped short of saying whether her government would call for an emergency WTO session. Zoellick acknowledged that African countries face a daunting challenge when quotas are eliminated, even with the duty breaks contained in the African Growth & Opportunity Act. President Bush, who now has the AGOA bill before him, is expected to sign it.

The legislation, which the Senate approved by voice vote, will allow apparel manufacturers in 19 least-developed sub-Saharan African countries, such as Lesotho, Kenya and Madagascar, to continue using fabric and yarn made outside the U.S. and Africa in garments and still qualify for U.S. duty breaks. Under the legislation, the special provision known as third-country fabric will be extended though September 2007. The bill also will extend the broader benefits of AGOA, set to expire in 2008, through 2015.

Apparel imports from sub-Saharan Africa totaled $1.6 billion for the year ended April, according to Commerce Department figures.

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