By  on January 18, 2005

MILAN — It’s just a little more than two weeks into 2005 — and the era of no quotas on textiles and apparel among the nations of the World Trade Organization — and while the feared invasion of low-cost fashion from China has not yet materialized, an unusually feisty Mario Boselli, chief of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, warned against underestimating China’s potential threat.

“I’m tired of hearing that China is an opportunity,” said Boselli during a meeting held in Milan Monday to sign an agreement between the official Italian and French fashion organizations that strengthens the countries’ collaboration.

“While true in theory, it is a practical lie. It is an opportunity for a few and a problem for many. We must be aware that we will go through a terrible moment because China follows a predatory strategy with predatory prices and without respecting our rules,” said Boselli.

For example, Boselli said the price of windbreakers imported from China dropped 60 percent between 2002 and 2004, and said that the country’s exports to Italy for this category grew 395 percent; prices of sports sweatshirts and pants dropped 73 percent and exports grew 316 percent. At the same time, prices are rising, sometimes by as much as 50 percent. “Once China has destroyed our western production cycle, it will raise its prices and we are dead,” continued Boselli, who scoffed at the notion that China will keep its promise to raise taxes on imports. “I don’t believe it.”

Adolfo Urso, Italy’s vice minister for trade, said at the meeting that the increase in prices could be caused by the fact that merchandise entering Europe is now much more monitored by the European Community so that China is looking at a bigger gain per single item. “Or perhaps prices are shifting toward a more reasonable range, as they were way too low before,” he said. Also, according to Urso, this shows that it is not true that basic products are the only ones coming from China. Urso was especially proud of the monitoring system the European Community set up in two months, available on the Internet site http://sigl.cec.eu.int. The Système Intégré de gestion de Licenses, known as Sigl, monitors all licenses for textiles and clothing and steel imports to Europe. “We know how many licenses are obtained, we monitor products, prices and quantity,” said Urso. Shoes will begin to be monitored in February.The agreement endorsed by Boselli and Didier Grumbach, president of the French Ready-to-Wear and Couture Federation, reinforces the cooperation between Italy and France that was put into place in June 2000.

“The fashion calendars will be increasingly rationalized, and could lead to a single, common calendar for the two capitals of fashion, Milan and Paris, that  will gradually replace the national calendars,” said Boselli. He and Grumbach are also working toward an improved circulation of fashion images. Grumbach insisted on the importance of defending the “intellectual property” of fashion designs.

“This is a pivotal year — we must solve this problem, take action and get the Americans involved,” said Grumbach. “It is a must to protect innovation, this is what makes the difference. Isn’t it strange that images based on innovation are on the Internet? It is not very intelligent, is it?”

François Loos, France’s trade minister, who, together with Urso also endorsed the agreement, said “globalization is good if it is mastered, and we want the U.S. to recognize the value of intellectual property while we have the ambition to defend all cultural diversities,” said Loos.

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