EU ministers now argue against curbs on Chinese textile imports

LONDON – The European Union must ease curbs on Chinese clothing imports or risk job losses and bankruptcies across the 25-nation bloc, four EU ministers said in an article published yesterday. Writing in the Financial Times newspaper, the ministers accused Brussels of sticking to an outdated view of international trade which could harm the EU economy. «Scores of European trading companies are facing bankruptcy or severe financial losses. Many jobs are likely to be lost,» they wrote. «Trying to stop imports and outsourcing amounts to economic suicide.» The article was signed by Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Karien van Gennip, Danish Economy Minister Bendt Bendtsen, Swedish Industry Minister Thomas Ostros and Finnish Foreign Trade Minister Paula Lehtomaki. New EU quotas to limit soaring clothing imports from China have already been exceeded in the case of sweaters and trousers, only weeks after they were agreed with Beijing. The four ministers said Brussels was wrong to resort to quotas to try to save European jobs. «We do not believe the reintroduction of import quotas for certain textile and clothing products from China is going to save Europe’s remaining textile industry,» they wrote. They urged Brussels to do more to help EU retailers who ordered goods before the 2005 quotas were breached and now face the prospect of empty shelves in the autumn. «The message we keep hearing from desperate importers is that they placed their orders long before there was any concrete indication that quotas might be reintroduced,» the four said. «If the EU were to leave these importers out in the cold would that benefit producers? We doubt it.» Earlier this month Germany’s employment minister wrote to the EU, urging a review of the restrictions. EU members have agreed to raise the ceiling for sweaters, despite concerns in countries like France and Italy which have big textile industries. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has said he hopes to strike a broader agreement with Beijing in September.