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British Union Chief Hails China Textile Deal


Britain's senior union leader says he welcomes a deal that has settled a textile dispute between China and the European Union, but he expresses concerns about China's treatment of its workers.

The general-secretary of Britain's Trades Union Congress, Brendan Barber, says this week's deal to clear nearly 90 million Chinese garments that had piled up in EU ports is good for all sides.

Mr. Barber discussed the issue at a news conference with foreign correspondents based in London.

"I was glad that that agreement was reached to resolve that particular impasse,” he said. “We have not wanted to advocate a crude protectionist position."

The EU says China had exceeded its annual textile export quota to Europe, and the garments being cleared through EU customs are being counted against Beijing's 2006 quota.

The dispute has exposed rifts in the EU between countries with strong textile industries they want to protect, such as Italy and Spain, and countries with strong retail sectors such as Britain, Germany and the Nordic states.

Mr. Barber, whose labor federation represents unions with 6.5 million members, says China will pose an ongoing challenge for companies and workers.

He says the state of workers' rights in China is particularly distressing for trade unionists.

"We are very concerned that at the moment we don't think China respects trade union rights in the way that we would expect,” Mr. Barber added. “We see the reports of a growing number of industrial disputes in which the response of the Chinese authorities can sometimes be very, very harsh."

Mr. Barber says the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, which for decades has been controlled by the Communist government, is reflecting on the role it should play in today's modernizing China.

He says Chinese workers are beginning to recognize the need for effective, genuinely independent workplace representation.

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