ECONOMY

Apparel industry wants fast action over Chinese imports

The Hellenic Fashion Industry Association (SEPEE) continues to lobby European Union bodies and the European Apparel and Textile Organization (Euratex) regarding measures to check the massive increase in cheap Chinese imports since the abolition of import quotas on January 1. On Sunday, the EU urged China to tame its textile exports or face formal curbs on products such as T-shirts and trousers, which have leapt in some cases by more than 500 percent this year. European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson announced plans for a probe into nine categories of Chinese textile and clothing products. His decision could lead to formal curbs on Chinese shipments by the 25-nation European Union within 150 days. SEPEE said in a statement that the inclusion of T-shirts among the nine categories was a positive measure for Greece. Nevertheless, the situation is causing considerable concern among the country’s small and medium-sized apparel and clothing firms. According to a sectoral study by business research firm ICAP, the market share of individual retailers is projected to fall in 2005 and 2006, largely affected by the rapid rise in sales at Chinese shops. Their problem is seen as worsening further by a projected 6-8 percent rise in the turnover of clothing chains this year and in 2006, as a result of expansion in both the main urban centers and provincial towns. The sales of chains with at least three outlets, operating under the same trademark, followed a downward trend in the 2000-2003 period but posted a 7 percent rebound in 2004. China made 17 percent of the world’s textiles and clothing in 2003, but the World Trade Organization (WTO) sees that market share rising to above 50 percent within the coming three years. According to the European Commission, member states imported 95.7 million T-shirts in the first three months of this year, a rise of 164 percent from the same period in 2004. Under the terms of its entry into the WTO in 2001, Beijing agreed that members could cap imports of Chinese clothing and textiles at 7.5 percent above the level of shipments the previous year until 2008 – providing they demonstrate that their own firms are suffering. SEPEE is now working together with the national counterpart organizations of France, Italy, Spain Portugal, Austria and Poland to put pressure on Mandelson to adopt safeguards immediately. However, Mandelson has said he is not interested in launching any trade war. «If there are some interests in Europe who want to see some sort of trade war with China launched over this, then they are looking at the wrong person,» he said.