Blog: Leonie BarrieUnder the wire?

Leonie Barrie | 15 August 2005

Are European retailers and importers really to blame for the fiasco – for that’s what it’s turning into – over the new Chinese clothing quotas? The new import restrictions were negotiated in June on ten categories of Chinese textile and clothing products. Less than two months later, and pullovers and trousers have already reached their quantitative limits for the whole of 2005.

Shipments up to July 11, when the EU-China agreement came into force, have been allowed into Europe – but EU trade chief Peter Mandelson has accused Chinese and EU traders of trying to get their pullovers and trousers into Europe “under the wire.” “The sheer scale of their attempt to beat the restrictions has presented [the Commission] with immense difficulties,” he said.

But EU officials knew Chinese imports were soaring; after all it was this that prompted them to reimpose quotas in the first place. So did they really expect the flood to slow to a trickle in a matter of weeks? And it’s not about last-minute orders either, as Mandelson has implied. Despite industry talk about shorter lead times and fast fashion, importers will have placed their bulk orders many months before the deal. And it is these garments – in most cases making up the new autumn/winter ranges – that are now sitting in containers, stranded in transit.

With no clear provisions about how to deal with orders that were already en route to Europe, the EC says that final decisions, including some flexibility on the future management of the quotas will not be taken until early September and “will be resolved in agreement with the Chinese authorities.” In the meantime, it hopes to be able to offer some flexibility for pullovers. Retailers, too, are pinning their fortunes on a solution – and one that doesn’t mean additional exports will be stopped from entering the market. At such short notice it will prove nearly impossible to source autumn collections elsewhere, and shoppers may be charged higher prices for those clothes that make it into the stores.


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