Turks seek piece of US textile pie

WASHINGTON – Turkey’s Commerce Minister Tunca Toskay said on Thursday his country was seeking a preferential trade agreement that would allow textile producers to ship their goods duty free to the US market. Toskay, in an interview with Reuters, said Ankara wanted the United States to establish «qualifying industrial zones» in Turkey, similar to those in Jordan, to increase sales of textiles and other products to the United States. Turkey’s trade relationship with the United States was less than it deserved as a strategic security partner, he said. Turkey is the only Muslim member of NATO and has broadly supported the US military action in Afghanistan. «It is our opinion that Turkey is being treated in an unfair way,» Toskay said, speaking through a translator. The United States has an open market for most goods, but Turkey’s main exports – textiles, iron and steel, and ceramic tiles – all face stiff US trade barriers, he said. Toskay was in Washington this week as part of a team of Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, looking for more aid from the International Monetary Fund. The country, which has borrowed $19 billion from the IMF over the past year or so, was expected to sign a letter of intent yesterday for as much as $12 billion in new loans. Also, the State Department on Wednesday announced the creation of a US-Turkey Economic Partnership Commission, which will hold its first meeting in Ankara on Feb. 26-27. US Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs Alan Larson will lead the American delegation at that meeting to explore ways of expanding trade between the two countries. Toskay said US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick in a meeting on Wednesday was open to the idea of a preferential trade arrangement with Turkey, but warned that opposition from American textile producers could make that difficult. Charles Bremer, director of international trade for the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, confirmed that his group opposed the idea. «I think the answer at the end of the day is ‘sorry, we can’t help,’» Bremer said. A sharp drop in the value of Turkey’s currency over the past two years has already reduced the cost of importing textiles from Turkey by 60 percent, he said. US textile companies also are worried that providing more market access for Turkey would make it difficult for the Bush administration to deny similar requests from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. «Everybody and his brother is going to be lined up at the door. And this industry, which has been losing workers at the rate of 1,500 per week for the last year and a half, is in no condition to grant favors to foreigners,» Bremer said. Edward Gresser, director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s trade and global markets project, said duty-free industrial zones in Turkey might be a good first step if the United States was not ready for a broader trade agreement. «They’ve proved remarkably successful» in Jordan, where the number of jobs created since they were first established in 1998 has far exceeded expectations, Gresser said. Also, with current quotas on US textile imports set to expire by 2005, the US industry should be looking at new ways of competing internationally, he said. «I don’t think, politically, trade protection is a very workable strategy for them over the long term,» Gresser said.

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