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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 16:59 GMT
WTO sights deal on textiles
Drought hit farmland
Concessions to Pakistan's drought-hit cotton farmers could be extended to others.
Ben Brown

In a bid to win support for new global trade talks, the EU has offered further concessions to developing countries on trade in textiles and clothing.

Talks in the Gulf State of Qatar are reaching a crucial stage, with only 36 hours before the negotiations are due to end.

Winning over sceptical developing countries, who make up the majority of World Trade Organisation members, is vital if new trade talks are to get the go-ahead.

EU spokesman Anthony Gooch said the 15-nation bloc was looking at proposals to increase market access for clothing - and said that the deal recently offered to Pakistan might be extended to other textile producers.

Textiles and clothing are the biggest manufacturing export for developing countries, and they still face severe restrictions despite an agreement in the last trade round to gradually open up Western markets.

Modest gains

The issue has angered many developing country textile producers, who thought they were promised the end of restrictions on their exports in a l994 agreement.

Euro-MP Nick Clegg, who is attending the conference, told BBC News Online that there was little doubt that their grievance was justified.

He said that any deal would have to be in the context of the existing agreement, and would offer only modest gains.

But he warned that the United States would find it difficult to accept a significant acceleration of textile imports, and within the EU there would be resistance from Portugal.

US trade unions would use any concessions on textiles to try and block the trade deal in Congress, according to Thea Lee of the US labour organisation AFL-CIO.

Flexibility

The EU renewed its call for flexibility from other parties, but acknowledged that it was isolated on its position on agriculture - where it wants to remove any reference to "phasing out" agricultural subsidies from the plans for future negotiations.

But the EU looked like conceding on other contentious issues, especially in the environment field.

UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher told the BBC that one key EU demand, to include the so-called "precautionary principle" in future trade talks, might have to be dropped.

"I think it's very, very difficult to see how this could proceed - there is so much distrust and uncertainty (on our other issues) ..that this might not be an issue this time round," he said.

Arm-twisting

The concessions to developing countries are being accompanied by bullying and arm-twisting, according to non-governmental organisations at Doha.

Teteh Hormeku, of the Africa Trade Network in Ghana, said that African nations had been threatened by the US with the loss of trade concessions if they did not back a new trade round at Doha.

A group of UK non-governmental organisations, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, and Cafod, have asked industrial countries to sign a "no bullying" pledge at the trade talks.

But UK trade minister Baroness Symons told the BBC that there would have to be real evidence of that type of behaviour before the UK could respond to such a request.

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