GENEVA — A demand floated Tuesday by 97 textile industry groups — spearheaded by U.S. associations — for textiles and apparel to be treated separately in the Doha global trade talks has drawn fire from China, but support from smaller nations such as Mauritius.
“That will definitely be unacceptable to us,” said a senior Chinese official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said if textiles and apparel are singled out, “it is not a good approach.”
“This separate sectorial is not on,” said a senior trade official from a textile-exporting Southeast Asian nation, who also requested anonymity. “Sectorial is meant to be a tool to complement further trade liberalization, not to carve out a sector.”
On the other hand, Shree Servansing, the ambassador from Mauritius to the World Trade Organization, said, “We support the idea.” The envoy said he would be holding a meeting with Turkey “to see how we can carry it forward and enlarge the coalition.”
The two nations have led efforts in the last 18 months in the WTO to secure special terms for the sector in light of the lifting of the import quota regime on Jan. 1. Servansing said he has already mobilized the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of poor developing states, adding, “We have to have a large base, otherwise we will not be heard.”
Many poor nations fear deep tariff cuts would result in the erosion of tariff preferences and limit the market access advantage they have over exporters in major markets like the U.S. and the European Union. However, some economists contend the lowering of duties and other trade barriers will generate new trade opportunities.
In the Doha talks sponsored by the WTO, sectorial initiatives in three areas — agricultural goods, services and nonagricultural goods, including apparel and textiles — seek to attract a critical mass of nations that agree to eliminate or slash tariffs by a greater amount then the levels agreed upon in a broader agreement. But the proposal made this week by the industry groups from rich and poor nations calls for smaller cuts then would be achieved under an overall formula.
Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, which is part of the Global Alliance for Fair Textile Trade, said, “The idea has just been floated” in the hope of providing focus ahead of the Hong Kong trade ministerial summit in December, and added, “We see a lot of countries examining it carefully.”
He said the 35 members of the U.S. House Textile Caucus had been briefed “and are fully supportive of this.” The Bush administration has not commented or discussed the initiative, U.S. officials said.
Some trade diplomats critical of the initiative argued such an approach would also mean no reduction in textile and apparel peak tariffs in rich countries and others feared if the initiative went ahead it could have a domino effect, with other sectors asking to be carved out of the Non-Agricultural Market Access segment of the talks. The NAMA tariff formula approach envisages the exclusion of no industrial-goods sector.
Asked about the industry initiative, the EU’s ambassador to the WTO, Carlo Trojan, said, “This is not a sectorial, this is exclusion.”
Servansing said he had no doubt that many big exporting countries such as China or India, with substantial textile interests, will oppose the initiative, “but these are negotiations.”