The collapse of a multilateral trade agreement aimed at streamlining customs procedures worldwide by cutting red tape and speeding up port clearances has been criticised by the group representing US apparel and footwear brands and importers.

World Trade Organization (WTO) members failed to reach agreement on the global customs pact at a meeting in Geneva yesterday (31 July).

Faced with a deadline of midnight, failure to advance the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) was stalled by India's demands for concessions on agricultural stockpiling.

Juanita Duggan, the new president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), strongly criticised the collapse of the agreement.

"Not only does failure in Geneva dramatically damage the WTO, but it also removes one trillion dollars from the world economy, including the same countries that blocked the landmark deal. Trade ministers from around the world should save the TFA talks immediately," Duggan said.

Apparel and footwear are some of the most heavily traded consumer goods on the planet, the AAFA noted.

"The clothing and shoe industry require sophisticated global supply chains so that today's fashions make their way to consumers all over the world. Reducing barriers helps keep fashion affordable.

"Everybody who wears clothes and shoes will be adversely affected if the TFA is allowed to die," Duggan added.

The TFA, part of a wider 'Bali Package', which was hammered out during a four-day WTO ministerial conference in Indonesia in December, had been hailed as marking a major milestone in global trade.

For the apparel industry, on the frontlines of globalisation with a retail value of over US$1.3 trillion and a complex worldwide supply chain, the benefits of a deal were seen as especially significant.

Speaking at an informal meeting of members yesterday evening, WTO director general Roberto Azevedo said: "We have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge the gap." He urged members "to reflect long and hard on the ramifications of this setback".

"My sense...is that this is not just another delay which can simply be ignored or accommodated into a new timetable - this will have consequences. And it seems to me, from what I hear in my conversations with you, that the consequences are likely to be significant," he explained.

He urged WTO members to "think carefully about what the next steps might be" and "come back in September".

International Chamber of Commerce chairman Harold McGraw, and secretary general John Danilovich, warned ministers earlier this week that failure to meet the deadline would stall multilateral trade liberalisation momentum and prevent developing and developed countries alike from reaping the benefits of the deal, which if fully implemented would lead to significant increases in growth worldwide.

"It is our concern that such a course of action would not only deal a significant blow to the global economy, but would also side-track the progress that you made in Bali and undermine prospects for securing future pro-development agreements under the auspices of the WTO."