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
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.