Byline: Carol Emert

WASHINGTON — Under the intense scrutiny of importers and manufacturers, negotiators for India and the U.S. will meet here Tuesday and Wednesday to continue hashing out a bilateral trade accord, including provisions to open the Indian market to U.S. textile and apparel.
Talks in Geneva were suspended Dec. 9 so U.S. negotiators could discuss possible concessions and market-opening options with the domestic textile and apparel industries. The U.S. will bring the industries’ suggestions to the negotiating table next week, said Rita Hayes, chairman of the Committee on the Implementation of Textile Agreements.
The U.S. is trying to convince India, which currently imports virtually no textile goods, to reduce tariffs on certain categories of U.S. merchandise. India has parried with requests for increased quota levels for its exports.
Hayes said she is hopeful an agreement will be reached next week.
“It’s very encouraging [the Indians] wanted to meet” on the earlier of two dates proposed by the U.S., she said in a telephone interview Thursday.
In Geneva, the U.S. accepted a list of products on which India agreed to reduce tariffs, said L.D. Ralte, first secretary of commerce at the Indian Embassy here, but the U.S. still wants “to add a whole host of items; four or five pages of items.”
Larry Martin, president of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, described the Indian proposal as “not very comprehensive — it didn’t include nearly enough products.”
Among the many products on the table is U.S.-made denim. Ralte said U.S. negotiators have requested a duty reduction for denim, but India has not yet decided whether to comply.
Market access for underwear is also under consideration, said Ron Sorini, senior vice president of international development for Fruit of the Loom and a former chief textile negotiator.
Traditional Indian print skirts, called ghagras, will also be discussed, said Hayes. Until this year, such skirts came into the U.S. without quota as “folklore items.” But this summer the U.S. decided to disqualify skirts with elasticized waists on grounds that they are not traditional.
Rep. John Spratt (D., S.C.) sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor earlier this week, urging him not to make any concessions to India.
Spratt recommended that several actions be taken against India, such as suspending its tariff benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences, denying routine quota increases, filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization, instituting an investigation by the U.S. government and prohibiting Indian merchandise awaiting quota from being stored in the U.S.
Importers and retailers roundly criticized Spratt’s letter. Robert Hall, vice president and counsel for government affairs for the National Retail Federation, said punitive action against India, such as denying GSP tariff reductions, would “raise the cost of Indian products coming into the U.S. and sold in craft stores and home furnishings stores.”
Domestic manufacturers are simply trying to keep inexpensive Indian merchandise out of U.S. stores, Hall said. “We as retailers want to see the market more open. We want more access to sell. But at the same time, we urge the U.S. government to reach an agreement. We don’t want to see talks break down.”
Laura Jones, executive director of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, accused the domestic industries of “wanting to make an example of India” to scare China into opening its markets.
“This has nothing to do with the Indians negotiating in good faith,” Jones said. “They have, and they have offered substantial concessions.”
She noted that the U.S. recently agreed to raise Pakistan’s quotas as part of a market-opening deal, yet Spratt and the U.S. manufacturers he represents oppose similar treatment of India.
Hayes said of Spratt’s recommendations, “There have always been [such] options open that we could look at, but we would have to see where we were in negotiations” before taking any action.
— Fairchild News Service

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