Sun, Sep 04, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Mandelson heads to China as textile talks forge ahead


The EU trade negotiators have put off a decision on whether to unblock millions of Chinese textiles and garments piled up at the border.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said in a statement issued in Brussels late Friday that discussions would continue over the weekend and tomorrow between the EU states and the European Commission.

Mandelson also said he would fly to China yesterday and would continue discussions there this morning.

"I still want and expect member states to agree to unblock the goods. It's a matter of tactics, not principles," he said, according to the UK's Independent newspaper.

Up to 75 million garments have been impounded by EU customs authorities for the past month after Chinese exporters overshot quotas agreed in a textile import restriction deal.

Mandelson has called on member states to raise the quotas for imports this year, news reports said. A final decision on whether the increase should be deducted from the quotas over the next two years should be decided later in the year, the Independent said.

Mandelson has admitted that efforts to thrash out a new deal with China allowing a shifting of the quotas have failed to produce results.

Some countries insist China make a concession because its exports already breached quotas set in June. Another difficulty is that China opposes any links with quotas next year and in 2007.

Mandelson wants to raise the caps on Chinese clothes to prevent shortages at retailers. Southern European nations led by Italy were resisting Mandelson's plan, Bloomberg news agency reported on Friday.

"It remains my firm position that immediate action should be taken to unblock the goods," Mandelson's statement said. "This will be in Europe's interest. Every day that they are held costs money for business and member states. It is unfair to penalize importers this way."

European retailers have warned there could be serious shortages of clothing throughout the EU unless the blocked goods are released immediately. They have also warned of job losses and bankruptcies in the sector.

The value of the goods, including pants, shirts and bras, is more than 400 million euros (US$501 million). The caps fixed in June for three years include limits on 10 categories of textiles. The flow of textiles followed the lifting of restrictions on Chinese exports of these goods by the WTO.

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