GENEVA — China is more than an exporting behemoth, it is the fast-growing market for luxury goods imports, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said Monday.

In a speech to textile producers in Florence, who are among those calling for restraints on Chinese apparel and textile exports, Mandelson said that in a few years China will become the world’s third-largest market for luxury products, many of which will be supplied by Europe.

“There are reliable estimates that up to 250 million Chinese people will be able to afford luxury products in five to seven years’ time,” he said.

Mandelson also reminded his audience that the EU is still the world’s second-largest exporter of textiles and apparel.

In Europe and the U.S., he said, “there is a genuine fear of trade-related job losses.” But, he said, with the quota system now abolished, Europe “must strike a balance between keeping our markets open and helping our own industries to adapt.”

In response to China’s export growth, he said, Europe needs to do all it can to expand long-term access to China’s marketplace.

Turning to the China safeguard quota consultations on two categories of EU imports — T-shirts and flax yarn — and seven investigations still ongoing, he said the EU’s preference is still for a negotiated solution. But he also said, “If I cannot solve this through negotiation, I intend to propose measures that will assist you.”

The U.S. last month imposed safeguard quotas on $1.31 billion worth of imports across seven categories of goods, including cotton trousers and cotton knit shirts.

In Geneva, Wang Dong Jing, China’s vice minister for labor, told the annual ruling session of the International Labor Organization that developed countries, instead of “restricting developing countries’ comparative advantages,” should pay more attention to their needs, address their concerns and provide them with technical support.

This story first appeared in the June 7, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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