GENEVA — The international trading community Friday lauded the openness of the U.S. economy and trade regime, but expressed its concerns over the persistence of high tariffs in some sectors such as textiles, apparel and footwear.

During a review of the U.S. trade regime by the 149-member World Trade Organization, numerous delegations and a WTO report noted that while average U.S. industrial tariffs were low, in some sectors they remain high.

It was acknowledged that the liberal U.S. market was the main engine for global commercial flows; 38 percent of all tariff items were entering the U.S. duty-free in 2004, up from 31 percent in 2002.

The Indian delegation said that while the U.S. had removed all quota restrictions in textiles and apparel, “there are still relatively high tariffs” in the sector and it urged the U.S. to “take early action for removal of tariff peaks and high tariffs on such products of export interest to developing countries.” Other WTO members registered like complaints.

In 2004, U.S. average applied tariffs for industrial goods were 4 percent, but for textiles and apparel the average was 9 percent and ranged as high as 37.7 percent for some products and up to 58 percent for footwear, the WTO report notes.

Rob Portman, U.S. Trade Representative, said Wednesday, “We will continue to vigorously pursue tariff reductions and removal of nontariff barriers because they will help general global economic growth.”

Major trading partners voiced concerns over security-related measures implemented since the 2001 terrorist attacks. The U.S.’s moves to restrict foreign investment on national security grounds, like Dubai Ports World bid to operate some U.S. ports, came under heavy scrutiny.

Sun Zhenyu, China’s WTO ambassador, said such measures have undermined members’ confidence in the U.S. business environment. The Chinese envoy added that by interpreting and applying WTO security clauses “in an excessive way, it has again seriously undermined the credibility of the multilateral system.”

The European Union said it’s committed to working with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism, but added, there’s a need to strike a careful balance between security concerns and avoiding unnecessary and costly burdens to legitimate and honest trade.

This story first appeared in the March 27, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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