Peter Mandelson Focused On Asean, China

Written by Malcolm Subhan | Updated: Sep 25 2004, 06:12am hrs
Indian exporters of textiles and clothing to the European Union (EU) will be pleased to learn that only 16.5% in volume of total EU textile and clothing imports are under restriction. This reassuring statement was made by the EUs incoming trade supremo Peter Mandelson, former secretary for trade and industry in Tony Blairs government.

Of course, the EU will eliminate import quotas by December. And the principal beneficiary will probably be China, according to Mr Mandelson.

These views are taken from the long and detailed answers given by the EUs new chief trade negotiator, to the questions put to him by the European Parliament. Under the EUs ground rules, the men and women who make up the European Commission, the EUs executive body, are grilled in writing and in person. Only if they pass this test can they take up office.

Peter Mandelson is likely to pass the test with flying colours, judging by his written answers to MEPs. He can therefore be expected to succeed the EUs present trade supremo Pascal Lamy on November 1.

Whether Bangladeshi exporters will be hit hard from next January remains to be seen. They ranked fifth last year in the list of non-EU suppliers of textiles and clothing to the EU, with exports of 3.2 billion euro, ahead of Tunisia and Morocco, which are a part of the EUs emerging economic zone.

Unlike Mauritius, all Bangladeshs exports to the 25-nation EU enjoy quota- and duty-free entry, under trade commissioner Pascal Lamys Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative, which covers all Least Developed Countries. It expires at the end of next year. But Mr Mandelson clearly intends following the policy already announced by Pascal Lamy.

The EUs revised generalised system of preferences (GSP) scheme, which will take effect from 1 January 2006, will give priority to the weakest and most vulnerable developing countries.

But with tariff preferences certain to be eroded even further after the Doha Development Round, Mr Mandelson favours a comprehensive approach to tackle this challenge. In addition to focusing the GSP on the needs of weak and vulnerable developing countries, he favours negotiating bilateral, development-oriented trade agreements and pressing developed countries and advanced developing countries to follow the EUs EBA initiative.

Mr Mandelsons foremost objective, to use his own words, is to complete the Doha Round, effectively advancing and defending the interests of the EU in the negotiations.

The EUs incoming trade commissioner has disavowed the protectionist route. Mr Mandelson accepts that the dynamic of economic change can be painful, and that there are bound to be economic sectors in the EU that come under pressure. The solution, he believes, is to promote our exports, ensure that we can adjust to competition, and create a level playing field where it is lacking.

Mr Mandelson wants to enhance economic relations with the Asean countries, with the aim of building the foundations for a future regional free trade agreement, and even bilateral agreements covering trade. This experience, in his view, could help us with India as well.

This was the only reference to India by Mr Mandelson in some 16 pages of questions and answers. There were several references to China, on the other hand.