Trade vs. Aid: Pakistan Wants Lower Tariffs, but US Gives Money Instead
In those first dark days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush administration sent a message to Pakistan: You are either with us or against us. Turn against the Taliban and join us in this war. Or else.
Pakistan’s leader, General Pervez Musharraf, agreed. But he asked for something in return. Sure, he wanted money. Sure, he wanted weapons. But the most important thing he wanted didn’t have to do with either of those. It had to do with fabric.
The textile and clothing industry is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, accounting for 60 percent of exports and 20 percent of employment. In factories across Pakistan, bearded men bend over sewing machines, while women in headscarves transform mountains of shirts into neatly folded packages for shipment abroad.
But Pakistan has struggled under heavy competition from countries with better infrastructure (India and China); countries so poor they get preferences (Bangladesh); and countries that have free trade agreements with the United States.
So when 9/11 happened, Pakistan saw a chance to finally get what it wanted from America: lower tariffs. But more than a decade later, it’s still waiting.
US officials initially agreed to try to lower tariffs back in 2002. But when Musharraf visited the White House that year, George W. Bush explained that he faced too much opposition from lawmakers from North and South Carolina — home to some of the last American textile factories.
Even though textile and apparel jobs in the United States have dwindled to less than half a million (from 2.4 million in the 1970s) the lobby still holds sway in Congress.