GENEVA — European firms are charging the European Union with dragging its feet in developing guidelines that textile and apparel industries need to file quota safeguard petitions against Chinese imports.
Some Continental executives are pointing the finger at Peter Mandelson, the new EU trade commissioner, for holding up the process.
“We are still waiting for the guidelines — the conditions that would trigger the mechanism and what data would need to be put on the table to make a decision,” said a top textile industry executive, who requested anonymity.
Asked when the guidelines would be ready, a spokeswoman for Mandelson said, “We’re still working on them. We should have something soon.”
“Things have not yet taken off in the EU and they have not put in place their procedures, but the political pressure is on the commission to do so,” said an Asian trade diplomat who monitors Brussels closely.
“At this stage, it’s difficult to have a clear impression what impact liberalization and the end of quotas has had,” said William Lakin, director general of the European Apparel & Textile Association. Euratex is the umbrella grouping that represents 170,000 companies and over 2.5 million workers in 25 member countries.
But Lakin noted that from the monitoring of import licenses issued for Chinese products and items liberalized on Jan. 1, “There are some alarming trends in a number of products such as trousers and finished products like women’s and men’s wear.”
The licenses indicate an upward trend in volume and a downward path in prices, he said. Lakin and other industry experts concede the monitoring of the import licenses is not the most reliable indicator, as the licenses issued could have a time lag of six months and there may be no correlation between the issuing and intention to import.
Rather, the trade information everyone is waiting for is the customs data collected by the EU’s 25 national customs authorities and forwarded to the European Commission, the administrative arm of the Brussels-based group. As this includes prices and volume by itemized categories, it’s considered the most important reading of the situation. The customs data for January is expected to be ready in the next week or two.
Textiles experts said a minimum of three months of data is needed to determine trade trends. Besides shedding light on the trade flows from China, the customs data is also expected to give an indication how other competitors such as India and Pakistan are doing, and to what extent they are pushing smaller and more vulnerable exporters out of the EU market.
Textiles and apparel is a major export industry for Euro-Med countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey, which are now feeling the competitive pressure from China.
In January, Turkey activated the China textile safeguard based on threat of market disruption against 42 Chinese products on which import growth is capped at 7.5 percent. China has been highly critical of the action by Ankara.
Argentina has also triggered the China textile safeguard to cap growth in certain Chinese shipments to 7.5 percent.
A senior EU official ruled out the idea that Brussels would opt for a threat-based China safeguard. “We’re sticking to the rule that you need to have proof of disruption,” the official said.
Trade tensions over the surge in Chinese textiles and apparel shipments featured prominently in the last Sino-EU summit in December and is also expected to be a main topic when Mandelson visits Beijing this month for bilateral talks.
The Chinese will likely be urged to “moderate” their exports, said the EU official. “They have already been told,” he said, “if there’s a surge in imports there might be problems if they do not show some prudence.”