- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

BEIJING (AP) — European and Chinese negotiators reached a deal yesterday to unblock millions of Chinese garments held up at European ports, and China’s trade minister said he hoped for an early settlement to a similar dispute with Washington.

The agreement came hours after British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Beijing at the start of an Asian tour to promote European trade with economic powerhouses China and India.

The deal would release about 75 million Chinese-made sweaters and other garments held at European ports after they reached import limits set in June by China and the European Union.

The agreement still requires approval by the 25-nation EU, but Mr. Blair expressed optimism that it would pass.

It is “an equitable way to share the burden of the unlicensed textile goods blocked in our ports,” said Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who was in Beijing with Mr. Blair for an EU-China summit.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said he expected European governments to review the deal within days. But he didn’t say when Chinese goods might resume flowing into European stores.

Under the deal, the imports will be counted against future quotas, Mr. Mandelson said.

“We take goods in; they will be counted against future quotas, both in terms of the year and category-swapping,” he said at a press conference with China’s commerce minister, Bo Xilai.

Mr. Mandelson wouldn’t give any details of the agreement, which came after a round of talks that began Thursday in the Chinese capital.

Both Europe and the United States imposed controls on low-priced Chinese textiles this year after complaints that soaring imports were threatening jobs.

Chinese exports of underwear, trousers and other goods surged after a worldwide quota system expired on Jan. 1.

The United States imposed unilateral controls that capped the growth of Chinese imports at 7.5 percent a year. Beijing says shipments to the United States have nearly reached the limit for 2005, and is warning that any interruption might hurt U.S. retailers.

“Let me say optimistically that we should have a deal with the United States quite soon, as well,” said Mr. Bo.

The U.S. government announced Thursday that it was reimposing quotas in two categories of Chinese clothing and textile imports after its negotiations in Beijing failed to make progress.

The administration said it would limit imports of fabric made with synthetic filament threads, and also bras and other body-supporting undergarments.

China blames the textile surge on richer countries, which it says failed to meet earlier promises to open their markets before the quota system expired.

Mr. Mandelson called the restrictions on Chinese textile imports into Europe — expected to last 2 years — a “breathing space to hard-pressed European producers.”

However, he warned, “Textile quotas are gone forever. What we are currently engaged in is smoothing transition into an era with no quotas.”

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