China moves to soothe EU concern over textiles leap

PARIS – China moved yesterday to soothe mounting concern in Europe over a dramatic rise in the former’s exports of textiles and clothing, promising a sharp slowdown by mid-year as a result of tax and tariff steps it has taken. Fearing for the future of an industry that provides 2.5 million jobs, several European nations want emergency action to curb the surge in cheap Chinese imports, and Washington has also taken steps that could lead to limits on shipments from China. Chinese Trade Minister Bo Xilai said some rich nations only had themselves to blame for the «brutal rise» because they did not prepare for the Jan. 1 abolition of a global quota regime. «Textile importing countries were supposed to gradually open up their markets to Chinese exports,» he told a news conference with French Trade Minister Francois Loos. «Unfortunately, some countries kept their… quota right up to the last moment.» Nevertheless, Bo said Beijing was acutely conscious of Europe’s concerns and was working to find a solution. «We want to soften the blow that could come from a massive rise in exports of Chinese textile products,» he said. «The Chinese government has taken some significant steps which are now bearing fruit.» The 25-nation European Union’s imports of pullovers and men’s trousers from China leapt by more than 400 percent in the first quarter of this year from the same period in 2005. But Bo said the growth rate of his country’s textile exports to the rest of the world had slowed to 3.3 percent year-on-year in March alone, and to the EU to 11 percent in the same month. China has already taken steps to tame its clothing exports with an export tax that has applied to each item, regardless of value, since Jan. 1. Along with other steps, this should lead to a «much gentler» rise as early as this month, Bo said. The EU’s executive, the European Commission, last week opened an investigation into the jump in imports of nine Chinese textile and clothing products, opening the way for limits to be slapped on shipments from China within 150 days. The US administration, under pressure from its apparel industry, has opened probes into about 10 categories of imports. After joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, China agreed to let member states restrict textile imports if a sudden surge threatened to disrupt their markets. Four EU states – France, Italy, Greece and Spain – have asked the European Commission to cut short its inquiry and move to formal consultations with Beijing, which would then have 15 days to curb exports voluntarily or face external action. Bo countered complaints from rich nation textile producers that China has an unfair advantage because it breaches copyright rules, saying Beijing had cracked down on counterfeiters and was working to educate the public about intellectual property.