Brussels, August 21:

European Union (EU) officials will hold an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss the crisis over millions of pounds of Chinese textile and clothing shipments heading for EU without import licences. The European commission confirmed yesterday that the import quota for Chinese blouses was filled and that three others, bras, T-shirts and bed linen, would probably meet their quota by next week. The quotas for pullovers and men’s trousers were met last week. The quantities involved are huge: the 2005 blouse quota reached yesterday was 73 million units, while the T-shirt quota is 491 million, more than one for every citizen in the EU.

Importers say they expect chaos for retailers who have made their orders but cannot use the shipments, many of which are piling up at European ports. They claim EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson caved in to pressure from Europe’s textile-making countries who want to protect their domestic industries from the threat represented by cheap Chinese imports. Despite a global deadline in January to end textile and clothing limits, Mandelson agreed a deal with his Chinese counterparts in June setting new quotas in 10 categories.

“It is sad that despite claims by the commission to promote competitiveness and jobs, it has decided to interfere with the trade liberalisation process, agreed more than 10 years ago,” said Xavier Durieu, secretary general of EuroCommerce, the importers’ and retailers’ association, “We warned them of the risks, and now hundreds of millions of items of clothing are stuck in Europe’s ports.” Durieu said retailers whose shipments were blocked were now being forced to place new orders for similar goods from other countries such as Turkey, Tunisia and Bangladesh. But the commission said it was premature to talk of clothing being stranded at docks. “The fact that a quota is filled is not exceptional. We expect that to happen,” a commission spokesman said.

Officials say that if there are shipments blocked in EU ports, it is because the orders were made by importers who did not have a licence to start with. The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have all publicly called for urgent action to ease the quotas, warning of retail shortages and job losses. They are expected to press other EU countries at next week’s meeting of the textiles committee. EU trade figures published yesterday reveal

that the total of Chinese imports increased by 21 per cent in the first five months of 2005 compared with the same period last year, to Euro 57.5 billion. Exports from the EU to China, by contrast, fell by one per cent to Euro 19.1 billion over the same January to May period.