Textile quota lapse a job issue

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More than 100 U.S. lawmakers yesterday asked President Bush to support an emergency World Trade Organization meeting to reconsider the end-of-year expiration on quotas for clothing and fabric.

The end of worldwide quotas is expected to cost 30 million jobs in the United States, Europe and a slew of developing countries, according to industry groups. The beneficiary would be China and, to a lesser degree, India, as the low-cost producers rapidly claim a large chunk of the world market.

“Chinese domination of global textile and apparel trade would shake the economic and political stability of dozens of struggling nations,” said the letter from 13 Senate Republicans and 16 Senate Democrats, including presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

On the House side, 34 Republicans and 54 Democrats signed a similar letter asking for an emergency WTO meeting that would “reconsider the wisdom of allowing worldwide quotas on textile and apparel products to expire.”

The Bush administration has steadfastly declined to back away from the quota phaseout.

“The United States intends to abide by its international obligations — that were negotiated more than a decade ago — to phase out the remaining textile and apparel quotas at the end of this year,” said Chris Padilla, spokesman for the U.S. trade representative.

The WTO’s 147 members plan to eliminate at the end of the year a global textile-quota system that capped sales from factories in developing nations. The quotas constrain the lowest-cost producers, such as China, and help other low-wage nations get a share of the world market.

Starting next year, China is expected to become the “supplier of choice” for most U.S. importers because its manufacturers can make “almost any type of textile and apparel product at any quality level at a competitive price,” the U.S. International Trade Commission said in a January report.

The result will be a loss of 650,000 American textile and apparel jobs and even more-severe losses in other nations, according to industry groups.

“Many of our key allies in the war on terror as well as strategic trading partners will quickly see millions of their workers put out on the street,” said the House letter, naming Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Haiti, Mexico, the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and South America.

The 10-year quota phaseout was originally meant to help developing nations by giving them greater access to U.S. and European markets. It is also likely to mean lower costs for consumers.

But this year, 81 textile and apparel associations from more than 30 countries have asked for an extension on the quotas until 2007.

U.S. and other industry groups say China’s December 2001 accession to the WTO and the country’s subsidies to its manufacturers unfairly tilt the market. No governments have backed an extension.

Mr. Padilla noted that any WTO decision would have to be made by consensus, meaning that China, India and other nations would have to accede.

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