WASHINGTON — At least one sub-Saharan African country is expected to step forward in Mauritius this weekend and call for an emergency meeting of the World Trade Organization to discuss the negative impact of the elimination of global textile and apparel quotas on Jan. 1.
The main goal of the talks, set for Monday and Tuesday at the meeting here of the Group of 90 (G-90), which represents the world’s poorest nations, is to reach an agreement on agriculture issues that have divided rich and poor countries in the current round of global talks. But textile and apparel quotas are expected to figure prominently.
According to several trade sources, a high-level official from the region, whose identity could not be confirmed, is expected to make the first formal request with WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi in advance of the G-90 confab, which Panitchpakdi will be attending. Sub-Saharan countries have expressed concern that the dropping of quotas will hurt their nascent industries, despite the preferential trade benefits of the U.S. African Growth & Opportunity Act.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who has insisted that the U.S. remain steadfast in its WTO commitment to eliminate apparel and textile quotas, and European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy also plan to attend the G-90 talks.
A formal request by a government official in the next five days would be a victory for a coalition of 90 international and U.S. apparel and textile organizations representing 47 countries, which have been agitating for a forum to discuss their concerns about the expected onslaught of apparel imports from China. One solution being floated is to extend quotas for a set number of years to give countries more time to prepare for a quota-free world.
Mauritius has already lost 30 apparel companies employing some 15,000 workers over the past 18 months due to the anxiety related to the anticipated shift in global commerce in less than six months, according to Peter Craig, trade commissioner of the Embassy of Mauritius in Washington. The industry had employed 800,000 in apparel and textile production. Over the last 1 1/2 years, apparel and textile exports have dropped by 30 percent.
“Our position is we support a special meeting of the WTO to discuss the effects,” said Craig. “We are not asking for an extension of [quotas], but if it comes to that, we are not going to oppose it. But that is not our position.”Craig stressed the call for a WTO meeting is “not China bashing.”
“It’s just the strength of China and India is so enormous there has to be some order in all of this, otherwise we are going to find serious problems,” he added.
Paul Ryberg, president for the African Coalition for Trade, a nonprofit trade association of African private-sector groups involved in trade with the U.S., said he expects a formal request to be made this weekend in advance of the G-90 meeting.
“We think this [quota elimination] will have such a profound impact on developing countries around the world, it absolutely has to get more public attention,” Ryberg said.
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