Groups ask D.C. to prod WTO

Michele SanFilippo, June 14, 2004

Industry associations have turned up the volume in their quest to get the World Trade Organization to reconsider the elimination of worldwide quotas on textiles and apparel products at the end of 2004.

Two bipartisan letters, signed by 117 members of Congress, were faxed to President Bush on June 9 urging the administration to endorse an emergency WTO meeting to determine whether the elimination of quotas on goods from China should be postponed until 2008 or beyond. In order for a meeting to occur, two-thirds of WTO member countries must endorse it — the impetus behind a special summit this week in Brussels.

At press time, 45 textiles groups from 16 different countries were planning to attend the Summit on Fair Trade in Clothing and Textiles, held from June 15 to 17 in Brussels. At the meeting, industry representatives endorsing the Istanbul Declaration intend to establish a plan of attack to persuade WTO members to call an emergency meeting. Currently, 81 trade associations have signed the declaration from 43 countries.

The letters to the White House were signed by 88 representatives from the House and 29 senators. The House letter was sponsored by Representatives Virgil Goode (R-Va.), John Spratt (D-S.C.), Howard Coble (R-N.C.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). The originators of the Senate letter were Senators Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), National Textile Association (NTA), American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC), National Cotton Council (NCC), American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and UNITE labor union helped congressional sponsors round up signatures for the letters.

"This sends a clear message to the rest of the world that Congress has grave concerns about the ramifications of the expiration of textiles and apparel quotas," said Cass Johnson, president of NCTO, during a press conference in the capitol last week. "Textiles and apparel groups around the world see the writing on the wall and are now rising up behind the declaration and demanding that their governments and the WTO act."

UNITE Chief Economist Mark Levinson added, "We know that a catastrophe is looming in the U.S. and in developing countries around the world. That is why we are calling on our government and the WTO to act on behalf of its global manufacturing workforce."

According to the coalition, the combination of China's direct subsidies, export rebates, currency rate and other trade practices allow manufacturers there to cut prices by up to 75 percent, a scenario the trade groups claim violates fair trade practices.

In addition, the organization reported that over the past two years, U.S. importers increased their orders from China by 830 percent in 29 apparel categories where China was removed from quota. China's market share of those products rose from 9 percent at the start of 2002 to 65 percent by March 2004, and its share continues to grow.

So far, the Bush Administration has maintained that it will abide by the original WTO agreement that will eliminate remaining quotas after Dec. 31.

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