FREE-TRADE DEBATE FLARES IN WTO
Byline: John Zarocostas / With contributions from Kristi Ellis, Washington
GENEVA — Developing countries are gearing up for a showdown with industrial nations over the much-anticipated global round of trade liberalization talks set for Qatar next month.
A contingency of World Trade Organization nations, led by India, called Monday for major industrialized powers to grant up-front market access on textiles and apparel, ahead of a proposed new round of WTO talks. The WTO hopes to launch global talks at a meeting of trade ministers in Doha, Qatar, set for Nov. 9-13, but a consensus on an agenda must be reached among WTO members before a new round can begin.
Developing countries claim they have not had the benefits they were promised from the Uruguay Round, which finished in 1994 and created the WTO. They insist that issues such as accelerating the elimination of textile and apparel quotas be addressed before the start of new talks. The 10-year phaseout of quotas, which expires on Dec. 31, 2004, was established during the Uruguay Round in the Agreement on Clothing & Textiles.
But one U.S. trade official at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said last week that renegotiation of previous agreements, such as the ACT, belongs in a new round of negotiations and should not be addressed before that. The official confirmed that textile tariff reductions and an acceleration of quota elimination will be on the table in a new round of talks, which will most likely be negotiated over several years.
The debate heated up once again Monday in response to two proposals released Sept. 26 by WTO Chairman Stuart Harbinson. The first proposal is a draft declaration for a new round of global trade talks, while the second proposal addresses implementation issues such as textiles.
India’s top WTO envoy, Srinivasan Narayanan, told a session here that major trading partners are “unwilling to show the required degree of political will and flexibility” on implementation issues. Some of the identified categories, noted Narayanan, include “elimination of all restrictions at aggregate or group level of imports and elimination of restrictions on children’s clothing.”
He noted that in the case of textiles and apparel, the implementation draft recommends the issues by developing countries be decided by ministers at the summit, which he opposes.
“We want confidence building through an early harvest,” said Pakistan’s WTO ambassador, Munir Akram. He said what was offered on implementation was “light.”
The U.S. and the European Union are trying to convince developing countries to agree to the implementation schedule and not to be too rigid, WTO diplomats said. But India complained that the draft on textiles slated to go to ministers has “no operation content.”
Meanwhile, the American Textiles Manufacturers Institute said it was preparing to send a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans to urge the government to leave textiles and apparel tariffs off the table in any round of trade talks.
Charles Bremer, director of international trade at the ATMI, said: “You can’t change the rules in middle of the game.”
Bremer said the implementation plans are “cast in concrete” and cannot be changed.
Still, other groups, such as the National Retail Federation, American Apparel & Footwear Association and U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel hailed the “on-the-table” remarks as a positive step toward liberalizing trade and opening markets.