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Washington Outlook Archive
By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Trade Officials Seek Relief For Tsunami Victims

By James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

The director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has appealed to the developed nations of the world to open their markets wider to products from the countries devastated by the tsunami. Supachai Panitchpakdi, whose native Thailand was among the nations hit by the tsunami, said liberalizing trade would help the hardest hit nations, such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka, recover. As an important actor in international economic cooperation, the WTO shares part of the responsibility to assist recovery from the disaster, Supachai said in a message to members of the 148 members of the WTO. While he did not specify what measures countries should take immediately, Supachai said concluding the Doha Round of trade liberalization talks as soon as possible would contribute to the recovery of the affected nations. The Doha Round has been bogged down since September 2003 when the talks collapsed amid sharp difference between the developed and developing nations over agricultural issues. The Sri Lankan government is expected to ask the United States and the European Union to eliminate their tariffs on goods from Sri Lanka.

Textile lobbyists in Washington were quick to react to Supachai's appeal and what might be coming from Sri Lanka, saying the industry would not support any further trade liberalization in view of its own economic problems. Lloyd Wood, spokesman for the American Trade Action Coalition, said the US textile industry has lost 363,200 jobs since January 2001, about 34 percent of the industry. He said if the US government wants to help, it should send bulldozers and electrical supply equipment to the devastated countries rather than expect the textile industry to take another hit. Most of the damage done by the tsunami was in the coastal areas, and apparel manufacturing in those countries generally is located inland, which for the most part, was not directly hit.

During the most recent 12-month period where the US Department of Commerce has reported trade data, Sri Lanka accounted for 1 percent of US textile and apparel imports, Indonesia 2.73 percent and Thailand 2.3 percent.

January 2005