Blog: Leonie BarrieEU import probe

Leonie Barrie | 25 April 2005

How close is Europe to taking protective measures against textile imports from China? Over the weekend EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson called for a EU probe into the impact of Chinese exports, and he’s now travelling to Hong Kong to start informal talks with China aimed at avoiding sanctions. However, he has also been careful to play down the threat of a ‘trade war’ over soaring Chinese imports of socks, T-shirts, bras, blouses and trousers – although other European spokespeople haven’t been quite so diplomatic!

Unless Bejing limits its exports voluntarily there’s every likelihood that temporary controls will be imposed – seriously testing Mr Mandelson’s commitment to free trade. But reading between the lines there are also signs that a final decision isn’t as clear cut as it first seems. EU ministers failed to agree on imposing fast track measures to impose an interim cut of imports, and included in Mandelson’s probe are the effect these imports are having on European producers, consumers and other manufacturing nations such as Morocco and Tunisia. For instance, there may have been a beneficial effect for the consumer in terms of price cuts, or there may have been a drop in shipments from other countries that need to be taken into account. An unknown share of the export surge has also come from European companies outsourcing work to China.
 
And as Mr Mandelson himself has admitted: “This safeguard clause is a unique provision and therefore we are in uncharted territory.”


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