Sri Lanka's director-general of commerce, Gomi Senadhira, says a draft blueprint on how to slash tariffs - yet to be agreed in the World Trade Organisation sponsored Doha liberalisation talks - for industrial goods would put his country at "a disadvantage" in the US market compared to developing nation beneficiaries.

At present, apparel tariffs in the US start at around 10% and go to about nearly 30%, Senadhira said.

"While we are paying these very high rates, most of our competitors from Central America CAFTA member countries and from Africa, such as Mauritius, for example, have duty-free access," he added.

Sri Lanka, which does not benefit from US apparel preferences, but which exports similar apparel lines to the US, would be adversely affected by a WTO deal on preference erosion, trade analysts estimate.

Under the adjustment terms, the timeframe for lowering US tariffs on 29 apparel categories that are of vital export importance for preferential access beneficiary  nations, would be over ten years. 

Sri Lanka would have duties reduced by the US on five sensitive apparel categories, including knitted sweaters, pullovers, men's or boys trousers and shorts, women's or girls trousers, men's or boys shirts, and brassieres.

Senadhira said this is not enough and stressed Sri Lanka wants fast-track access for all the sensitive product lines.

In 2008, Sri Lanka's apparel exports to the US were valued at $1.6bn, down 5% on the year before, according to WTO statistics.