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Developing Nations Discuss Trade

February 9, 1999

MOUNT PELIER, Jamaica (AP) _ At least 1,000 people in this Jamaican mountain village were thrown out of work when an American T-shirt factory shut its doors recently and moved to Mexico, where labor costs were supposedly cheaper.

Another U.S.-owned factory opened last week _ but hired only 40 workers.

``I get by, but only just. Every house here had someone employed at the old factory,″ said Carron Reid, 35, pointing to the village’s dilapidated wood and zinc cottages.

At the Montego Bay beach resort, a 40-minute drive away, delegates from Jamaica, Mexico and 15 other developing nations are meeting this week to address the costs of free trade.

Foreign ministers from the group _ called the Group of 15, or G-15, although it has now grown to 17 states _ will attend the three-day meeting, which begins Wednesday.

Finding common ground will be difficult. The group’s ranks include Mexico, which has preferred access to the U.S. consumer market as a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement, _ and countries like Jamaica, which has lost thousands of textile jobs in recent years.

G-15 states account for 30 percent of the world’s population and produce $2 trillion worth of goods, or nearly 40 percent of the gross domestic product of all developing nations.

The economic problems of some G-15 countries have captured the world’s attention: from Malaysia, whose economic collapse launched Southeast Asia’s financial crisis, to Indonesia, where economic problems brought down the government, to Brazil, the latest victim.

But G-15 members complain their problems have not translated into the political and economic clout they deserve.

``It seems you have to go down in flames before people listen,″ said Jamaican delegate Richard A. Pierce.

The G-15 draft statement echoes previous calls: giving foreign debt relief or forgiveness, allowing smaller states time to prepare for a world without trade barriers, preserving jobs and social stability.

Delegates complained the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are not heeding warnings that traditional measures emphasizing austerity in exchange for financial aid could precipitate more crises.

Still, consensus among G-15 members appears elusive.

Jamaica’s Daily Observer newspaper reported that delegates objected to a Malaysian suggestion that the United States and European countries regulate the currency speculators that Malaysia blames in part for its economic crisis.

Malaysia wants to require speculators to invest for a minimum of two or three years, the newspaper said. Brazil and Mexico objected, looking to benefit from short-term investment.

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