WASHINGTON — Mauritius, in the first such action by any country, made a formal request Monday for an emergency meeting of the World Trade Organization to discuss the impact of the elimination of global textile and apparel quotas on Jan. 1.
Jaya Krishna Cuttaree, Mauritius’ minister of foreign affairs, international trade and regional cooperation, outlined the plea in a letter to WTO director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi, said Peter Craig, trade commissioner of Mauritius’ embassy in Washington.
Craig said Cuttaree’s letter contains a paragraph saying the group of 71 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, known as the ACP, also endorses an emergency meeting, though none of the governments cosigned the letter.
Mauritius has lost 30 companies employing 15,000 apparel and textile workers in the past 18 months because of the anxiety related to the anticipated shift in global commerce in less than six months, Craig said.
“There are many small countries out there, especially sub-Saharan African countries that have small, infant industries who are concerned about what is going to happen after Jan. 1, 2005,” Craig said. “The request is not for an extension of [quotas]. The request is to look into how small countries and infant industries can be protected.”
He reiterated that Mauritius would not oppose a final decision to extend quotas.
“China and India have to realize they have a role to play in this,” Craig said. “This has to be an ordered system.”
The request is a victory of sorts for a coalition of 90 U.S. and international apparel and textile organizations representing 47 countries that has called for a forum to discuss the onslaught of apparel imports from China, and to a lesser extent India, when global quotas are removed as part of a WTO mandate.
It is also a critical step in getting the issue on the floor of the world trade body.
“Based on those reports…this movement has made the necessary step from an industry-led effort to a government-endorsed effort,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents U.S. textile firms. “We understand it’s not just Mauritius, but that the ACP has fully endorsed this movement. That means virtually the entire developing world is calling for a solution to this pending crisis.”
One proposal is a three-year extension of quotas to give countries more time to prepare for a quota-free world, but any solution will be based on the outcome of a WTO meeting if it advances. Tantillo said the coalition is hopeful that a full-fledged WTO meeting will be scheduled in September.