The European Commission plans to strengthen its co-operation with China and monitor of Chinese imports to ensure a smooth transition to a quota-free system from 1 January 2005.

The proposal is just one of seven outlined by the Commission to enhance the competitiveness of the European textile industry, and build on the work carried out by the High Level Group for textiles and clothing in June.

EU Enterprise Commissioner Olli Rehn said: "The EU textiles and clothing industry is a sector which has faced permanent competitiveness, restructuring and modernisation challenges over the last 50 years.

"Now it is going through profound structural changes. At EU, national and regional levels, we need to provide adequate conditions to help the sector strengthen its competitiveness and remain a key industry in the EU."

The seven action points are:
• Boosting research and innovation;
• Ensuring lifelong education and vocational training;
• Structural funds to cover unforeseen crises;
• Strengthening the fight against counterfeiting and piracy;
• Improving European industry access to third countries;
• Completion of the Euro-Mediterranean zone;
• Strengthen co-operation with China.

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy added: "With anticipation and close co-operation with the European industry we can ensure that there is a smooth transition to a quota-free trade in textiles on 1 January 2005.

"And we will not leave developing countries, in particular the poorest and more vulnerable, out in the cold. We will re-focus our trade preferences so that they can continue to benefit from an open and fair access to the EU."

However, Zuzana Roithová MEP, vice-president of the European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, disagrees with the approach of the European Commission on textile quotas from China.

"The European market risks being flooded by cheap Chinese products if the European Commission cancels the quotas. Consequently, up to 2.5 million jobs in Europe will be endangered", she said.

"The EU should in no way counter the liberalisation of the market. However it should fight against the unfair practices of some Asian states," Mrs Roithová added.