BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Monday, 5 September 2005, 02:22 GMT 03:22 UK
Bra war threatens Blair China talks
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website, in Beijing

Seamstresses at a Chinese textile factory
Chinese textile imports to Europe have surged since the start of 2005
Tony Blair has flown into Beijing for key summits amid fears the events will be overshadowed by the continuing "bra wars" between the EU and China.

The UK prime minister, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU, is at the start of a four-day round of talks which will also take in New Delhi in India, with climate change and trade deals top of his agenda.

He has long argued the need for Europe to face up to the growing challenge from the two massive economies and the environmental challenges they pose.

He used his first speech as president of the EU to focus on the issue which, particularly in the case of climate change, was at the core of the G8 summit in Gleneagles earlier in the year.


And he is hoping his meetings with leaders in both countries will take major decisions on climate change and trade and seal relations between Britain, the EU and the two countries.

But the unresolved row over EU-imposed sanctions on Chinese textiles - the so-called "bra wars" - is certain to raise its head.

It had been hoped the issue would be resolved by the time the prime minister arrived in Beijing, but even as his aircraft landed, negotiations were continuing.

The prime minister, whose close friend and European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson is responsible for the negotiations, has insisted it will be up to officials to deal with the problem.

The pace of change is picking up speed all the time. Therefore, as a continent, we have to meet that challenge
Prime minister's spokesman

And both Mr Mandelson and the British government have voiced confidence the dispute will be settled quickly.

Mr Mandelson and Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso will also be in Beijing to continue negotiations to end the dispute.

But British suppliers are growing increasingly angry at the embargo, which has seen about 80 million items of clothing - including sweaters, trousers and bras - piling up in warehouses at European ports.

Retailers have warned of severe shortages and rising prices if the goods are not released.

Asian challenge

Mr Blair has promised that Mr Mandelson has his full backing in his efforts to end the dispute. But it is clear the prime minister is not eager to get drawn too deeply into the row.

His official spokesman said the dispute was a "precise illustration" of the prime minister's belief in "the need for Europe as a whole to modernise to meet the challenge from China and India."

"As we saw in this case, the pace of change is picking up speed all the time. Therefore, as a continent, we have to meet that challenge," he said.

But unless the dispute is settled within hours it is certain the prime minister will be drawn into it during his time in Beijing when he will meet President Hu Jintao and ministers later on Monday.

The first day of his visit is devoted to EU business, with plans to hand China the technology for a coal-fired power station designed to combat climate change.

Sporting events

Summit discussions are also bound to focus on the difficult issue of human rights as well as a number of regional and international issues, including UN reform and North Korea.

The second day of his visit will be a UK-China summit and will concentrate on trade - the prime minister has taken a large delegation of businessmen with him - and cultural relations.

During Mr Blair's time in China, Nottingham University will launch the first independent university in the country, at Ningbo, near Shanghai.

There will also be a series of cultural and sporting events with figures including ballet dancer Darcey Bussell, athlete Colin Jackson, film-maker Richard Curtis and former England soccer boss Sir Bobby Robson joining the prime minister's party and staging "master classes" on their specialities.

The fear, however, is that all this planned good news will be overshadowed by the textiles dispute.

After the Beijing summit, Mr Blair will fly to New Delhi for similar summits on EU-India and UK-India relations.

In Delhi, the prime minister will unveil a wide-ranging EU action plan with India covering issues including development and trade.

Peter Mandelson explains his approach to the row

Europe upbeat on end to quota row
04 Sep 05 |  Business
EU makes move to end textile row
29 Aug 05 |  Business

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific