China, EU to continue talks on textile dispute

Beijing, September 4:

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson met today with his Chinese counterpart in a bid to resolve a pending trade dispute that has left millions of Chinese-made textiles blocked at European ports. Mandelson’s talks with trade minister Bo Xilai came a day ahead of a EU-China summit to be held in Beijing and attended by British prime minister Tony Blair, head of the rotating EU presidency. “I hope that we can get an agreement — if we get an agreement at all — before the summit,” Mandelson said.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese textile items are being blocked in European ports because they exceed import quotas agreed to by both sides in June. EU and Chinese negotiators held a week of talks in late August aimed at ending the impasse but negotiators appeared stuck on whether to allow the goods into Europe under 2006 quotas, or just expand the 2005 quotas.

Any deal between the EU and China must also be acceptable to all 25 EU member states. Releasing the blocked products could save European importers hundreds of millions of dollars in orders and other costly shipping and storage fees. “I hope we solve this issue during the summit because it will be important for the world to see that the EU and China are able to solve some problems that appear in a constructive and positive way,” said European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, who flew into Beijing today with Mandelson. “EU member states have agreed in principle that we need to unblock the goods,” Barroso said, adding that there was still disagreement on how to handle goods that did not have import licenses. Calling the June agreement “robust,” Barroso said that a sudden surge in orders and shipments “frankly overwhelmed administrative arrangements”.

“The rapid overshooting of quotas has occurred in pullovers and to a lesser extent in trousers and to a limited extent in other categories. Elsewhere there is no overshoot,” he said. China had shipped over 300 million pullovers to Europe this year, compared to some 40 million last year, he added.