TURKISH TEXTILE TALKS SET ON POST-QUAKE QUOTAS

Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — Turkish textile negotiators will hold two days of talks here, Sept. 20-21, to discuss their request that the U.S. eliminate, or at least greatly liberalize, apparel and textile quotas to help that nation recover from August’s devastating earthquake.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, during a trip to Turkey last weekend to assess the damage, invited its trade officials here for these talks, according to a State spokesman. The spokesman said Albright’s invitation was made at an Istanbul press conference Sunday and accepted immediately by Ismail Cem, Turkey’s foreign minister.
Turkish industry sustained heavy losses and damage in the quake that shook Istanbul and other sections of western Turkey Aug. 17, leaving at least 16,000 people dead. Apparel and textile production was hard hit initially, although an official with the New York branch of ITKIB, the industry’s trade group, noted last week that production and exports should be back to normal by about mid-October.
Apparel and textile exports account for about 10 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, but shipments to the U.S. have been growing rapidly in recent years. In 1994, Turkey exported 394 million square meters equivalent of apparel and textiles to the U.S. For the year ended in June, these shipments were 582.5 million SME, according to Commerce data.
D. Michael Hutchinson, director of Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel, said Tuesday that Turkey had requested consultations before the earthquake on greater access to the U.S. market for its apparel and textile products. Hutchinson said after the quake, Turkey requested the U.S. to eliminate all of these import quotas, “or provide more flexibility where its quotas have filled substantially.” He would not say what product categories are of most concern to Turkish makers.
Hutchinson said Turkey, in the upcoming talks, “will raise the matter of the quake as an incentive for the U.S. to provide relief [by eliminating or liberalizing apparel and textile import quotas] and we said we would talk about this, although no decisions have been made about the outcome.”
Industry sources said Turkey, at a minimum, would want to liberalize the terms of flexibility provisions in its agreement with the U.S., gaining much greater latitude to shift unused quotas to product categories in heavy demand, such as men’s and boys’ and women’s and girls’ knit shirts and blouses, as well as cotton nightwear.
News of the pending talks here with Turkish textile officials was not greeted warmly by the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
“Two years ago Turkey argued its quotas should be removed or increased, because it just had joined the European Union, and last year it received” some ability to shift quota around, said Cass Johnson, ATMI’s assistant director, international trade.
Johnson said ATMI staunchly opposes quota elimination for Turkey, or provisions that would allow it to easily shift around quotas annually. “If you do these things for one country, you can be sure every other country that has quotas will want the same,” Johnson said.
Acquiescing not only could wreak havoc with U.S. textile makers, but, he argued, it would undermine one of the basic tenets of the World Trade Organization’s plan to end all apparel and textile import quotas as of Jan. 1, 2005. The quota elimination plan increases all such quotas gradually through 2004, he said, “to allow industry to adjust and to prevent dramatic import surges into this market, and we feel it is vital to retain the provisions.”
Not surprisingly, Julia Hughes, Washington vice president for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, took the opposite tack, saying, “We are very pleased the Clinton administration recognizes there is an urgent situation in Turkey” — a situation calling for higher levels of textiles and apparel shipments to the U.S.
Hughes said that while she does not know the nature of Turkey’s negotiating position, she assumes from current trade data that, at a minimum, the country would like to ship more knit shirts, cotton sheets and nightwear to the U.S.
Hughes noted that following the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. increased various apparel and textile import quotas for Turkey. Though the Bush administration would not comment on the matter, the move was widely viewed within the textile trade community as a U.S. payback to Turkey for allowing U.S. bombers to use Turkish airbases during that war.
An American Apparel Manufacturers Association spokesman, reflecting that group’s increasingly global outlook, said, “It’s important that the U.S. government carefully consider whatever concerns the Turks may have, especially in light of the recent earthquake.”