WTO Textile Issues Create A Marriage Of Convenience

<CS:BOLD>NEW YORK -- In an effort to improve the chances of industrialized nations selling fabrics globally, textile-maker organizations from the U.S., European Union, Canada, Mexico and Turkey have agreed to take a unified lobbying stance with their...

NEW YORK — In an effort to improve the chances of industrialized nations selling fabrics globally, textile-maker organizations from the U.S., European Union, Canada, Mexico and Turkey have agreed to take a unified lobbying stance with their governments regarding the World Trade Organization.

The groups — the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, Euratex, the Canadian Textiles Institute, Canaintex of Mexico and the Istanbul Textile & Apparel Exporters Association — disclosed their five-point agreement in a joint statement released by the ATMI on Thursday.

They said they “agreed to address the massive imbalance between trade opportunities existing in developed importing countries compared to the closed markets in developing exporting countries, particularly in Asia.”

Their lobbying objectives regarding the WTO are:

To open the markets of developing nations to imports of fabric, by lowering tariffs and nontariff barriers.

To stick to the current schedule of abolishing all quotas on textiles and clothing by 2005, rather than speeding it up as developing nations have requested.

To insure that the organization maintains its antidumping and antisubsidy rules.

To end the “de facto” practice of not punishing developing nations for infringing on intellectual property rights.

To put an end to illegal transshipments and smuggling of textile and apparel products.

Those points were hashed out at a meeting in Washington last week attended by representatives of the five groups, as well as trade officials of the U.S. and Mexican governments and the European Commission.

In banding together, the nations are taking a similar approach to what developing nations have done in their quest to have the WTO speed up its current quota phaseout.

Carlos Moore, executive vice president of the ATMI, said the agreement was primarily intended to highlight what he called the unfair trade stances of nations such as India, which is pushing for more market access for its fabrics, but which the ATMI contends has high tariff and nontariff barriers to imports.

“What we did was look at the big developing country exporters who are hiding behind their own closed markets,” Moore said. “We felt that had to be the primary objective of the market-access negotiations. It’s become so unfair and inequitable that something has to be done.”

Prior to the November WTO trade round in Qatar, a group of nations led by India were pushing for an acceleration of the quota phaseout. The U.S. and other developed nations shot down that proposal. Moore contended that, in pushing for further quota liberalization, India is acting in only its own interest, not in that of other developing nations.

“As more developing nations begin to realize that India is not acting in anyone’s interest but India’s, and India is keeping its market closed, it becomes clear that big textile exporting countries are taking unfair advantage of the system,” he charged.

Liz Siwicki, president of the Canadian Textiles Institute, said: “We have more negotiating power as a coalition. It helps our countries’ negotiators know that we are not alone in taking a particular position.”

The Canadian textile industry, which employs more than 50,000 workers, took “big cuts” in the Uruguay Round of talks, which were completed in 1994, Siwicki said. She said the Canadian government agreed to lower duties in a number of categories, including a 41 percent reduction on fiber, a 36 percent reduction on yarns, a 44 percent decrease on fabrics and 24 to 28 percent reductions on apparel.

“Plus we committed to remove all quotas” by 2005, she added. “That’s an incredible increase in access for developing countries to our market.”

Siwicki said the new coalition is focused on protecting its members’ respective industries and forcing developing countries to open their markets.

“In the Uruguay Round, we gave developing countries a major head start in terms of integrating and creating an equitable world trading environment,” said Siwicki. “We gave up a lot in that round and we are waiting to see them fulfill their commitments.

Shipments from the Canadian textile market were down 10.7 percent for the first 11 months of 2000, compared with the year-ago period, she said, adding that she expects more declines.

Gerardo Aguilar, a representative of Canaintex, said Mexican manufacturers’ agenda is also to make sure that their wares can be sold in other countries.

“The Mexican position is because we already have free trade agreements in force with 29 countries, we would like to get the same treatment,” he said. “It’s unfair that these developed countries or industrialized countries sign agreements without reciprocity from developing countries like India and Pakistan.”

A spokeswoman for the Turkish association said her group wanted better access to the Asian markets.

“We would like to see these regions open their markets,” she said, adding that Turkey would also like to have greater market access to the U.S. and, in turn, would like to further open its market to U.S. goods.

Representatives of Brussels-based Euratex, which is an alliance of all the national textile lobbying groups in the European Union, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

U.S. textile executives reacted warmly to the news the ATMI is joining forces with foreign textile groups.

“It makes sense,” said Gail Strickler, president of New York converter Saxon Textiles. “We’re all in the same position. You’ve got such a tough consideration. It’s the First World versus the Third World and you really have to decide whether you totally want to give up your manufacturing business and what rules you want to play by.”

This isn’t the first time the ATMI has formed a coalition to lobby issues during a trade liberalizing round of talks.

In the early 1990s, the ATMI and other textile groups lobbied against a five-year phaseout of apparel and textile quotas and succeeded in gaining a 10-year phaseout of quotas on apparel and textiles, according to Charles Bremer, director of international trade at the ATMI. The coalition also successfully lobbied their respective governments to include language on intellectual property rights protection.

“We are going to watch every step of the negotiations this time,” Bremer said.