Millions 'to lose textile jobs'
Millions of the world's poorest textile trade workers will lose their jobs under new trade rules to be introduced in the new year, a charity has warned.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is to end its Multi-Fibre Agreement (MFA) at midnight on 31 December.
Christian Aid condemned the move, saying it would see almost a million jobs in Bangladesh alone being axed.
However, supporters of the change claim it will mean increased efficiency and lower costs for Western consumers.
Supporters also argue the move will see more jobs created in India and China.
Period of adjustment
The WTO said that many developing countries support the end of quotas and stressed that funding was available to countries such as Bangladesh to help them make the transition to a fully liberalised market.
"There will be a period of adjustment required," said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell.
"Some countries will do better than others but there is no one who is suggesting that no developing country will do well out of this.
"Some countries where it may appear that orders will dry up have seen orders surging, and there are many companies who will continue with existing trading relationships."
The MFA was established in the 1970s to give some protection to the textile industries of industrialised countries facing competition from countries with lower manufacturing costs.
Quotas were set up when a surge of imports threatened to cause serious damage to a country's indigenous producers.
Since 1995, the WTO has been gradually phasing out quotas to bring trading agreements governing textiles into line with global free trade regulations.
Many countries originally supported the WTO policy but are now fearful that China, which became a WTO member in 2001, will overwhelm the market.
China now accounts for about 17% of global textile sales, but some experts believe this could rise to 50%.
Christian Aid has warned that millions of jobs will be lost, in a new report called Rags To Riches To Rags.
It added that with few employment alternatives available many sacked garment workers could end up in far worse jobs - with some of the mainly female workers forced into the sex trade.
Riches to rags
Some of the world's fastest developing countries rely on textile exports to build growth - for example in Bangladesh textiles account for almost 85% of the country's exports.
China could dominate the textile market, some experts believe
While the current MFA was not perfect, Christian Aid said, it did allow Third World countries like Bangladesh to get onto the first rung of industrial development.
"The losers in this new trade landscape will be some of the most vulnerable workers in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Nepal," said Andrew Pendleton, Christian Aid's head of trade policy.
"They will be hard-pressed to cope when garment industries there lose their protection.
"We are deeply concerned that the New Year will spell misery for huge numbers of garment workers."
European producers believe a fully liberalised market could benefit them but only if China and other countries scrap current trade barriers.
"We are free traders and we do not have a problem with that," said Filiep Libeert, president of European trade association Euratex.
"Most of the industry has been able to prepare itself over the last ten years and has moved to restructure itself and develop new products."