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US mulling separate textile pact in world trade deal

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, Mar 3 (Reuters) The United States is exploring the possibility of negotiating a separate agreement on textiles as part of a world trade pact that countries hope to finish by the end of the year, according to US Trade Representative Rob Portman.

''We are interested in working with other countries on this possibility. We are doing a lot of outreach to other countries to see what interest there is,'' Portman told reporters yesterday in a conference call from New Delhi, where he met with Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

But Portman also said it was too early for the United States to commit to pursuing a separate textile pact.

The US textile industry, which already has shed thousands of jobs in recent years, fears being driven out of business by a new world trade deal that aggressively cuts tariffs on all manufactured goods, as the United States has advocated.

Washington also has pushed in the manufacturing negotiations for separate agreements covering sectors such as energy products and medical equipment where a critical mass of countries would agree to eliminate all tariffs.

In a letter this week to the chairman of the WTO negotiating group on manufacturing, US textile groups called for a different type of ''sectoral'' agreement that would allow countries to maintain significant import protections.

''The global textile and apparel sector is simply too critical and too sensitive to be handled in a generic fashion as part of the overall (manufactured goods) negotiations,'' the US groups said. ''The Doha Round (of world trade talks) has the potential to impact the livelihood of millions of textile and clothing workers worldwide.'' Portman said he has talked recently with the US industry about their desire for a sectoral pact that provides ''more predictability and certainty'' following the end of a global textile quota system at the beginning of 2005.

US producers also are worried about what will happen to when a three-year agreement limiting some of China's exports to the United States expires at end of 2008, he said.

But ''until we have a better sense of support from other WTO members, and then have a better sense of what the contours of such a sectoral approach might be, it's premature for us to take a position,'' Portman said.

REUTERS DH RAI0530

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