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French President Demands Resolution to EU-China Trade Dispute

Lisa Bryant

Gerhard Schroeder, right, and Aleksander Kwasniewski, left, look on as French President Jacques Chirac answers questionas during a joint media conference
French President Jacques Chirac is demanding the European Union and China move quickly to bridge differences over China's textile trade. Mr. Chirac's call came during a summit meeting with German and Polish leaders in France, aimed at pushing a yes vote on the European constitution.

President Chirac said an increase of Chinese textile imports to Europe threatens the jobs of thousands of Europeans. He called for the European Union to reach a speedy agreement with Beijing to protect, what he described, as Europe's legitimate interests.

Unlike the United States, the European Union has no plans to introduce quotas on Chinese textiles, but France's Finance Minister Thierry Breton has suggested certain steps might be taken if no agreement is reached.

Mr. Chirac made his remarks during a press conference with German and Polish leaders in the eastern French city of Nancy - and 10 days before the French referendum on the new European constitution. Recent polls suggest a "no" vote might prevail, although only by a narrow margin. But many French voters say they are still unsure how they will vote.

All three European leaders took the opportunity of their summit meeting to make a pitch for a yes vote - and Mr. Chirac warned anew of dire consequences if France rejected the constitution. That included, he said, close German-French ties.

Mr. Chirac described French-German solidarity as the motor and foundation of the Europe of tomorrow. I do not want to believe today that French will compromise one of the world's biggest achievements in terms of peace and cooperation by voting against the E.U. constitution on May 29.

German and Polish leaders also joined in to defend the yes vote. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said France had the responsibility of not leaving other Europeans in the lurch, by rejecting the charter. Europe is stronger, he said, when it speaks with one voice.

Both Mr. Chirac and Mr. Schroeder reiterated their argument that the constitution could not be renegotiated if it is rejected.

And Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski tried to soothe French fears that jobs might be lost to cheaper Eastern European competitors under an expanded European Union.

Mr. Chirac also said a European constitution would help secure European jobs threatened by Chinese textile imports. Beijing has rejected any blame in the dispute, instead faulting the United States and the European Union for being slow in lifting textile import quotas.

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