Trade ministers of the 25-member European Union say they support the launch of an investigation into a flood of cheap textile and clothing imports from China.
The ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, were reacting to an announcement Sunday by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson that he plans a probe into nine categories of Chinese textile and clothing products. Mr. Mandelson urged China to cut its textile exports to Europe, or face formal curbs on products such as T-shirts and trousers.
Major European textile producers, such as France, Italy and Portugal, are demanding the European Union, which handles all foreign trade matters for its member states, impose limits quickly on Chinese exports. They say thousands of textile jobs will be at risk, unless the bloc acts now.
But other countries, such as Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden, are against imposing emergency measures.
EU statistics show that imports into Europe of Chinese sweaters have jumped 534 percent, and those of men's trousers 413 percent, compared with last year.
China acknowledges that its exports have increased since a global quota system ended on January first. But it says it has imposed its own measures to control the export surge. China now produces nearly half of the world's output of T-shirts, sweaters and trousers.
In announcing his 60-day probe into the surge of Chinese textile imports, Commissioner Mandelson says he wants China to exercise further restraint, in order to prevent the need for EU restrictions.
"I urge China to take a fresh look at the measures they have put in place already, and explore whether they cannot do more," said Mr. Mandelson. "I have also asked for concrete evidence that their measures are having an effect. I shall be pursuing this further over the coming days with the Chinese authorities."
Mr. Mandelson, who is now in Hong Kong for meetings with Chinese trade officials, says Europe's textile industry needs breathing space, so it can restructure and become more competitive. But he acknowledges that the European Union cannot impose permanent restrictions under world trade rules.
Diplomats in Brussels say that, even though the European Union is irked by China's low-cost clothing exports, it does not want to get into a trade spat with Beijing. The diplomats say that, as the Chinese economy continues to boom, many EU companies are angling for lucrative contracts there in such areas as nuclear power and high-speed trains.