WASHINGTON — With the world’s major trading nations set to sign off on the GATT’s Uruguay Round April 15, it appears the U.S. will not insist that Asian nations open their markets to U.S. textiles and apparel.
Domestic textile and clothing industry officials, backed by the Congressional Textile Caucus, had urged the Clinton administration to pressure such impenetrable markets as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand to drop import duties that often exceed 100 percent, and various non-tariff barriers as well.
Some within the industry have urged the administration to threaten to withhold benefits of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement phaseout to such recalcitrant nations.
In late March, Ambassador Jennifer Hillman, the chief U.S. textile negotiator, met in Geneva with Indian and Pakistani officials to seek import duty concessions. Their response was “unacceptable,” said a senior U.S. government official who attended the sessions.
The official, who requested anonymity, said low-level discussions will continue in Geneva, but was not sanguine that progress would be made by April 15, when ministers from the world’s 117-member GATT nations meet in Marrakech, Morocco, to give their final approval to the Uruguay Round.
The major negotiations for the treaty were completed last December, with a four-month period provided for making changes and additions, such as agreements on market access.
Meanwhile, in another development that apparently indicates the administration will sign off on the Round protocol without the market access concessions from nations such as India and Pakistan, the U.S. has published a 2,000-page document that lists all U.S. tariffs and how they will be affected by the Round.
U.S. textile and apparel import duties, for example, would fall from an average of 15 to 26 percent now to 13 to 14 percent 10 years after the Round’s implementation, which will likely be July 1, 1995.
The trade official said publication of the tariff schedule, with its GATT-related cuts, doesn’t foreclose the possibility that India and Pakistan will make market-opening concessions, but indicated the U.S. seemingly would not torpedo the Marrakech meeting if these are not forthcoming.
“The door is always open to press for more concessions, but technically this would not be part of the Uruguay Round,” the official said.
The American Textile Manufacturers Institute and American Apparel Manufacturers Association have made market access a key to their support for the Round, which must be approved by Congress, along with implementing legislation.
Apprised of the apparent U.S. stand on the Round, Stuart Boswell, AAMA’s president, said he was concerned the administration has “not really addressed what we felt were significant areas, such as market access.”
Carlos Moore, ATMI’s executive vice president, suggested the U.S. could threaten to withhold Generalized System of Preferences trade perks from recalcitrant nations, such as India and Pakistan, or invoke the recently reinstated Super 301 trade law with its punitive import duties that can be levied against countries that engage in unfair trading practices.
The U.S. trade official said that the issue of GSP has been raised “in context of market access discussions with India and Pakistan,” at the March Geneva sessions, but to little apparent effect.
The official also noted that both these nations were cited in the National Trade Estimate Report issued last week, the first step in a process that could lead the U.S. to impose trade sanctions against nations with closed markets.
A decision on imposing huge punitive import duties against such countries could come by September.