Active European Commission support and stubbornness in foreign trade talks is required to defend Europe's shaky clothing and textile sector against a flood of foreign imports, the European Parliament has said.

In a comprehensive policy statement, MEPs effectively said textile and clothing manufacturers should not be offered as sacrificial lambs to strike an agreement at the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) Doha Development Round.

These negotiations should reach their end game next year, and in a formal resolution, MEPs expressed "their concern with high tariff and non-tariff barriers in many non-EU countries" as regards textiles and clothing. The resolution continued: "The European Commission, in its bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements with third [non-EU] countries should secure better market access conditions in such countries, as this is vital for the future of the Europe-based textile and clothing industry…"

Emerging market economies such as China, Brazil and India are major targets of this talk, and it has been their unwillingness to give ground on industrial good tariffs that have slowed progress at the WTO talks in recent months. MEPs also urged the commission to push for a WTO-sanctioned right to impose minimum and environmental and social standards for clothing producers exporting to the EU, a move guaranteed to provoke accusations of protectionism by poorer countries.

But the MEPs' mettle has been hardened by their experience of China, with the resolution calling for the Chinese authorities to review their exchange rate policies, with under-valuation "now facilitating a massive flow of Chinese textile and clothing imports".

The parliament also called for the double-checking monitoring Chinese clothing and textile exports to the EU in 2008 to be extended into 2009 and beyond. Meanwhile, MEPs called on the commission and member states to "actively promote the modernising of the EU-based textile industry by supporting technological innovation, research and development [and] vocational training…"

By Keith Nuthall.