WASHINGTON — Bangladesh, leading a movement from developing countries, has sent a letter to the World Trade Organization asking for a resolution to the phaseout of textile and apparel quotas on Jan. 1.

The 147 WTO nations are set to drop their final quotas on textile and apparel, which have been gradually lifting over the past decade. The end of the 30-year-old system is expected to result in intense competition for market share, with certain large nations, including China and India, seen as likely to gain ground. Their gains are anticipated to come at the expense of many small, poor countries such as Bangladesh, some of which are heavily dependent on apparel exports.

Bangladesh’s Commerce Minister, Altaf Hossain Choudhury, sent a letter asking the WTO to “take the necessary measures” to protect the poorest nations in the world in 2005. Apparel accounts for about 85 percent of Bangladesh’s exports, according to government officials. An official at the Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington, who requested anonymity, said the letter was sent on July 10. It highlighted a number of steps the WTO could take, including extending quotas beyond the end of the year and calling on developed countries to extend special duty-free treatment, the embassy official said.

The Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius has also sent a letter, which urged the WTO director general, Supachai Panitchpakdi, to call a special session of the trade body to discuss the quota phaseout. Jaynarian Meetoo, Mauritius’ ambassador to the WTO, said the organization had agreed to hold such a meeting in the Council for Trade in Goods after the summer break. The WTO members must all consent to any amendments to existing trade commitments, such as the quota phaseout, which they agreed to in 1994.

Several key powers indicated they would not be interested in extending the quotas. “We made that commitment and we intend to carry it out,” said Peter Allgeier, deputy U.S. trade representative. A senior Chinese WTO diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “You should not punish a country for its competitiveness.” A senior Pakistani official, who also declined to be named, said, “We will not agree to any changes.” Ronald Saborio Soto, Costa Rica’s WTO ambassador, said the proposal to extend the quotas seemed to work against the free-trade principles at the heart of the agreement.

This story first appeared in the July 26, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

— With contributions from John Zarocostas, Geneva