Talks to forge a new global trade deal are set to resume today (29 July), as ministers struggle to hammer out their differences on proposed subsidies and import tariffs.

Sticking points in the latest negotiations among ministers from 35 countries include plans to allow developing countries to impose a 'special safeguard mechanism' on certain agricultural goods if imports surge or prices fall, and calls for faster cuts on cotton subsidies.

The World Trade Organization's Doha Round, which was launched seven years ago, aims to open up world trade by erasing trade barriers such as industrial and agricultural tariffs and liberalising services.

But it has been beset with problems since its launch in November 2001, with negotiations already missing several deadlines.

The two key areas under discussion are industrial tariffs and market access for non-agricultural products (or NAMA). The NAMA talks would see a reduction - and possible end - to many import duties on clothing and textiles traded worldwide.

If a breakthrough can be reached on the level of tariff cuts and agricultural subsidies, then the aim is to conclude the agreement by the end of 2008.

The talks have ramifications for the textile and clothing sector, whose global supply chains are largely governed by the existing system of WTO multi-lateral trade rules.

However Mike Flanagan, just-style contributor and chief executive of industry consultancy Clothesource, believes there's a real danger that bringing down trade barriers will lead to the destruction of the garment industries in highly vulnerable countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Egypt and Honduras.

In a special commentary published on just-style yesterday, he points out that trade preferences ensure that poorer developing countries enjoy special access to rich-country markets - but that when tariffs come down they will lose their relative advantage to countries like India and China.

"Our industry over the past 20 years has been responsible for creating more jobs in poor countries than any economic movement in history," he says, adding: "It's the one industry that's created a real, externally-focused, economy in dozens of really poor places.

"Preference erosion" isn't an obscure bit of small print: it's jargon for "killing the main source of employment in just about every poor country that's starting to industrialise."

By Leonie Barrie.