AMBASSADOR SUBASINGHE SPEAKS AT THE
SECOND SAIS- SAARC AMBASSADORS’ FORUM
Forum discusses “End of WTO Multi-Fiber
Agreement and Implications for SAARC Countries”
The second meeting of the SAIS (School of Advanced International
Studies of Johns Hopkins University) -SAARC (South Asian Association
for Regional Cooperation) Ambassadors’ Forum was held on
October 29, 2004 at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University. The second
meeting involved a panel discussion entitled, “End of
WTO Multi-Fiber Agreement and Implications for SAARC Countries.”
This is the first of a series of topics selected by the SAARC
Ambassadors rotating in alphabetical order by Embassy. Representatives
from five Embassies of the SAARC countries participated in a panel
to discuss their viewpoints on how the end of the Multi-Fiber
Agreement (MFA) would affect their respective countries.
Ambassador Devinda R. Subasinghe speaking at the Forum said that
Sri Lanka played an active role in the Uruguay Round in the early
1990s and prophetically cautioned against ending of textile quotas.
Ambassador Subasinghe mentioned that Sri Lanka has a few world
class apparel producers who are expected to be winners when the
quotas under the Multi Fiber Agreement are abolished on 1st January,
2005. However, he highlighted that one-third of the apparel producers
in Sri Lanka, mainly medium and small size apparel manufacturers,
will have a difficult time adjusting to the quota free scenario
while, another one-third is likely to go out of business. Ambassador
Subasinghe also added that Sri Lanka’s apparel industry
has pursued a plan to increase competitiveness, move up market
and find a niche market for its apparel products. Sri Lanka is
also pursuing an aggressive policy of diversification of its export
base to mitigate the adverse impact of the abolition of quotas
in 2005. He also mentioned that the country has taken cognizance
of the importance of trade security issues in terms of port security
in the post 9/11 context and has already become partners of the
US in its Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Megaports
Assistant US Trade Representative for South Asian Affairs and
former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Ashley Wills speaking at the
forum said that the US will honor its commitment under the WTO
Apparel and Clothing Agreement and quotas will be phased out in
January 2005. He explained that the U.S. is aware of the adverse
impact on some of the exporting countries noting the availability
of safeguard measures to curb the surge in imports from China.
He mentioned that it was important to safeguard the benefits of
the trade agreement partners because many of them experienced
difficult economic adjustments to qualify for those benefits.
Ambassador Wills also said that Washington is “open minded”
about a similar, multilateral initiative to help smaller countries
impacted by the soon-to-be-free textile trade regime. Assistant
USTR Wills said tariffs are not the only factor that will decide
“winners” and “losers” in the new regime.
Countries that have diversified their economies, applied efficient
customs systems, have fair labor laws and put in place lower duties
on needed input will stand to gain. He emphasized that those countries
that developed niche markets and enhanced their competitiveness
were likely to survive the dynamics of Post MFA 2005.
The SAIS-SAARC Ambassadors’ Forum is a unique and timely
development in the US Capital given the enhanced US focus on South
Asia. The Forum also provides an opportunity for discussion of
important contemporary issues that are salient to SAARC, whilst
also providing a platform and intellectual arena for SAARC Ambassadors
to share their views and gain visibility in Washington. It is
driven more by contemporary themes than by events.
The discussions were moderated by Thomas Keaney, Executive Director,
Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS. The forum was also addressed by
Mr. Peter Minor, Managing Associate, Nathan Associates. Ambassador
Syed Hasan Ahmad, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the U.S., Ambassador
Keder B. Shrestha, Ambassador of Nepal to the U.S., Dr. V.S. Seshadri,
Minister (Commerce), Embassy of India, Mr. Ashraf Hayat, Minister
(Trade), Embassy of Pakistan also participated at the panel discussions.
The session was attended by a representative gathering of policy
makers, academics, graduate students, journalists and diplomats.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
29 October 2004