GENEVA — Senior Indian and Chinese officials on Thursday dismissed calls by the U.S. for textiles and apparel to be given special consideration in the global tariff-reduction talks.
“No possibility; we can never agree,” said a senior Chinese official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The envoy said other major Asian developing countries felt just as strongly and would not agree. He said such a stance would be “a step backward from the liberalization trend and not consistent with the July 2004 framework package.”
The accord brokered by then-U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and key ministers from other countries helped put the Doha Round of trade talks back on track following their dramatic collapse during the World Trade Organization summit in Cancún, Mexico, in September 2003.
Ujal Singh Bhatia, India’s WTO ambassador, said, “I don’t think there is much support for that,” and noted that such requests by the U.S. “in our view put serious strain in what are already difficult negotiations.”
Another senior trade diplomat, also speaking anonymously, said the U.S. was “giving conflicting signals.” He stressed that some of the U.S. remarks on textiles were at variance with its broader policy stance on sectorial talks in the non-agricultural market access segment of the talks.
According to a progress report on the NAMA talks circulated to the WTO’s 149 member countries, the U.S., along with nine other WTO members, including Singapore and Hong Kong, submitted a proposal on the sectorial component of the talks that stipulates those initiatives “shall aim to reduce or as appropriate eliminate tariffs … over and above that which would be achieved by the formula modality.”
In a negotiating session Wednesday, Turkey, which has put forward a less ambitious tariff-reduction proposal that calls for harmonization in the sector, wants language on sectorials to remove “over and above” and insert the word “harmonization.”
However, in the face of strong opposition from other members, Turkey suggested its proposed changes could be put in brackets.
A draft modalities text on NAMA is slated to be circulated to members early next week and will be used as the basis for trade ministers to try and hammer out a breakthrough deal when they gather in Geneva at the end of the month.
The Turkish proposal is viewed favorably by U.S. textile industry groups, plus small exporters like Tunisia, Jordan, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.
During a negotiating session, the U.S. said the harmonization proposal by Turkey merits closer study, “but we are not in a position to endorse it at this stage” and also stressed, “This sector needs special consideration,” trade diplomats said.
Some trade officials attributed the two-track U.S. approach on textiles to “negotiating tactics” and some others to the fact that the Bush administration has as yet not decided which way it will come down on the textiles and apparel issues in the talks.
But a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said reference to special consideration “is simply a frank acknowledgement of the importance of this sector to virtually all WTO members, whether they are major exporters or preference-receiving countries.
“There are a wide variety of views on this subject,” the USTR spokeswoman added. “It’s controversial and we’re all going to have to find a solution to the variety of concerns that all WTO members can live with.”