The Guardian

Brussels, March 25:

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson condemned a group of Mediterranean EU countries for blocking plans to speed up preferential treatment for imports from Indian Ocean countries hit by the tsunami. France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, backed by others, joined forces to block

Mandelson’s proposal for fast-track acceptance into the generalised system of preferences, which offers lower tariffs, for countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Mandelson’s plan, which met with stalemate among foreign ministers last week, was blocked again yesterday at a meeting of senior diplomats from the 25 member states. “He’s very, very upset, nay, furious,’’ an aide said. Mandelson proposed that the countries affected by the tsunami should be allowed preferential treatment until their exports hit 12.5 per cent of EU imports in sectors such as textiles.

But the Mediterranean countries, who have been subjected to a ferocious lobby by their textile

industries to take measures to curtail a flood of Chinese imports since global quotas were lifted on January 1, insisted on setting the ceiling at 10 per cent. NGOs reacted angrily, pointing out that India has 200 million people living on less than a dollar a day and it was being left out of a scheme meant to help poorer nations.