The European Union council has officially adopted a proposal to eliminate all quantitative restrictions on the import of textile and clothing from World Trade Organisation countries from 1 January 2005.

The regulation puts into place one of the commitments agreed at the end of the last WTO Trade Round in 1994, and, according to EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, "definitively seals the disappearance of textiles quotas that have been in place for four decades".

Mandelson added that "there is no going back".

The council will set up a transitional regime in the first quarter of 2005 applying to all products affected by the ruling. A monitoring system will show early signs of big market disruptions, allowing the EU to closely watch how trade patterns within the new environment.

China has said that it will impose its own restrictions on exports of clothing and textiles after WTO countries repeatedly expressed concern that the country will further increase its domination over the market when quotas expire in 2005.

Mandelson said: "The challenge now for the textiles industry worldwide is to compete in the new environment.

"But policy makers also need to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible and managed in a way that does not wipe out the textiles industries of weak and vulnerable developing countries. They too should be able to benefit from liberalisation in due course".

The EU currently applies 210 quotas for the import of textiles and clothing products from 11 WTO countries or territories

Imports quotas will be maintained in some non-WTO countries such as Belarus and North Korea, Serbia and Montenegro and Vietnam, although agreements being finalised with Vietnam and Serbia should lead to the end of quotas for them in early 2005.