The ninth round of negotiations to create a free-trade agreement between the United States and Central America got underway in Washington this week amidst wide-ranging opposition.

The proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, would eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade between the US and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, with a vote by the US Congress being targeted before the 2004 summer recess.

Despite a slew of initiatives backed by the big retailers and apparel importers, textile makers are against the agreement. They argue that measures to help third party countries and include textiles manufactured in Canada or Mexico under the umbrella of duty- and quota-free access to the US apparel market cannot be supported. 

"In these difficult economic times, with millions of manufacturing workers still without jobs, the last thing we should be doing is creating special exceptions for third party countries that will cost this country precious US jobs," said a joint statement issued by the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, National Textile Association, American Yarn Spinners Association, American Fiber Manufacturers Association, National Cotton Council, and Unite.

"Consequently, we are firmly opposed to both tariff preference levels and cumulation," it adds.