By  on March 14, 2005

GENEVA — The European Apparel & Textile Organization, also known as Euratex, has called for the European Union to institute special safeguard measures to stem the surge in imports from China.

In a move to put political focus on the highly charged issue and force a reluctant EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, to act, Euratex urged the EU to trigger safeguard quotas on 12 product categories, including knitted jerseys and pullovers; trousers and shorts of wool or cotton; women’s and girls’ blouses; women’s and girls’ dresses; women’s and girls’ woven overcoats and raincoats; pantyhose and tights; socks; bras, and woven fabrics of flax and ramie.

“The time has now come to limit the seemingly voracious appetite of Chinese exporters for the European market,” said William Lakin, Euratex director general.

Only EU member states or the European Commission can formally request the special China safeguard. China agreed to the mechanism when it joined the World Trade Organization.

Mandelson, in a statement Friday acknowledging receipt of the Euratex request, said, “I’m also conscious of the potential damage to the industry in developing countries. I am monitoring the statistics closely, and I am in direct and active contact with the Chinese authorities. I will take appropriate action at the appropriate time.”

However, Euratex and EU officials differ on a host of issues, including the data used by the industry umbrella group, which represents 170,000 companies and 2.5 million workers in the 25 EU member countries.

In the absence of complete import data from all the EU national customs authorities — only 10 out of 25 had forwarded complete data for January — Euratex instead used Chinese export data that showed huge increases in volume.

Senior EU officials admitted they do not have full figures for January and said they need to have their own evidence. They noted that the Chinese export data may include shipments that have not yet reached the EU borders.

But the European industry is also hot under the collar over the stalling by Mandelson in developing the guidelines that the industry needs to file China safeguard petitions. EU officials said they are still in the process of assessing the possible safeguard guidelines and indicated there is no timetable when they will be ready.The delay, said some Brussels insiders, may be due to political differences among EU member states and Mandelson on how to proceed.

Some industry executives are apprehensive they might be presented with guidelines that might be difficult to implement, while others feel such measures might not correspond with Mandelson’s vision, which has the completion of the Doha round of global trade talks as his top priority.

Francesco Marchi, Euratex director for economic affairs, said China’s textile exports, including fabric, yarn and carpeting, to the EU countries in January increased 48.2 percent over the same month a year earlier. Similarly, China’s apparel exports to the EU in January increased by 50.7 percent to $976.7 million over the same period last year, he said.

In the targeted categories, such as women’s shirts and blouses, Chinese exports in January jumped 244 percent, and exports of bras increased by 493 percent.

Contrary to the calls for action, China told a WTO session on Friday that, with the end of the quota regime, textiles and apparel should be treated now the same way as any other product with no special treatment.

Munir Ahmad, executive director of the  International Textiles & Clothing Bureau, the 24-member country umbrella group of developing country exporters that includes China, said, “These are early days yet. Before we get such spinning arguments, it’s better to wait and see for at least a six-month period to see what happens.”

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