WASHINGTON — U.S. trade officials drew criticism Thursday for failing to take concrete action against foreign trade barriers despite years of consultations and diplomatic hand-wringing.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative acknowledged in its annual report on foreign trade barriers that China, India and Egypt still maintain some of the highest hurdles on imported apparel and textiles.
The 2004 report, mandated by Congress, lists barriers to U.S. exports of goods, services and farm products from 53 trading partners in each region of the world, and profiles policies restricting market access.
Twelve House Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), citing 3 million lost U.S. jobs since January 2001, took the administration to task in a letter to the President Thursday for failing to take action to address foreign barriers to U.S. exports. They urged the administration to bring seven new cases to the World Trade Organization over the next 60 days in an effort to address unfair barriers to U.S. exports.
Among those cases is one regarding India’s nontariff barriers on U.S. textiles and other products.
“One cause of this imbalance is India’s heavily protected market, which even after steps taken in recent months remains one of the most heavily protected in the world,” the letter stated.
India recently eliminated “special” and “additional” duties, which effectively blocked U.S. exports of textiles and other products. But, the lawmakers charged, India replaced them with nontariff barriers such as excessive testing requirements that offset the benefits.
In a conference call with reporters, a U.S. trade official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. meets with the Indians regularly and “at a pace that has never occurred before.”
“Since the early Nineties when India moved away from an autarchy and socialism, India’s economy has been opening but more slowly than we would prefer,” the U.S. official said. “We are encouraging them to quicken the pace.”
India remains one of the most heavily protected textile markets in the world, according to the U.S. textile industry.
“India typically relaxes one barrier while it introduces another that continues to keep the market closed,” said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations. “It’s almost like a minuet where the U.S. advances and India moves over and five to 10 years later there is still no access to the market.”
The Democratic lawmakers also called on the U.S. to file a case seeking to eliminate China’s “trading and distribution rights” restrictions, which limits who can import and how much can be imported; as well as a case against India’s nonenforcement of copyrights and trademarks.
The report also noted that the U.S. last year called for WTO consultations with Egypt over excessively high tariffs on imports of apparel and textiles.
According to the USTR report, Egypt has since issued a presidential decree that lowers the apparel tariffs in question, some of which were high as $230 per item and many times the value of the garment itself.
U.S. trade officials have also recommended that Indonesia rescind an import-licensing decree but no WTO case has been filed on the matter.