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Canadian gov pressed to curb Chinese textile
Updated: 2005-07-10 21:32

Faced with a dizzying rise in Chinese textile imports since quotas were lifted in January, Canadian unions are pressing the government to introduce protectionist measures similar to trade barriers in Europe and the United States.

Workers at the Ningbo Silk Trend garment factory in the eastern Chinese port city of Ningbo. Faced with a dizzying rise in Chinese textile imports, Canadian unions are pressing the government to introduce protectionist measures. [AFP]

There has been a "106 percent increase in Chinese imports of men's clothes since the beginning of the year, 282 percent more jackets, 415 percent more bras, 629 percent more coats...," these are staggering numbers, according to Lina Aristeo, the local director of Unite Here, a North American association created in 2004 representing 490,000 members.

Chinese textile imports in Canada are up 40 percent in total since quotas were abolished, said Aristeo, prompting fear of massive job losses among the 144,000 Canadian clothing industry workers, more than half of them in the French-speaking province of Quebec.

Once the jewel of the Canadian textile industry, now on its last legs, Montreal had long benefitted from the low Canadian dollar and low salaries to sell clothes to its southern neighbour, but neither factor will save it now as Mexican and Chinese goods flood the US market.

Between December and June, factory closures or shift cuts have forced 1,200 people in the sector out of work in Quebec, including 800 in Huntington, devastating the small town of 2,600 people south of Montreal.

Faced with this situation, Unite Here and the Federation des travailleurs du Quebec, the largest trade union in the province, complained to the Canadian International Trade Tribunal on Friday to compel the Canadian government to act.

"We're asking the government to put safeguards in place to limit the increase of Chinese imports to 7.5 percent," Aristeo told AFP.

Such protections were already negotiated as part of the agreement to allow China to join the World Trade Organization, but Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government has balked at the idea.

The decision not to follow the lead of the United States or European Union was applauded by the Economic Institute of Montreal, an ultra-liberal think tank that decries the use of protectionist measures to counter the flight of companies abroad.

In May, the United States imposed quotas in seven categories limiting increases of Chinese imports to seven percent until 2008, in accordance with the agreement allowing China into the WTO.

The European Union has also signed an agreement with Beijing to limit imports of a dozen Chinese textile products by eight to 12.5 percent until the end of 2007.

In Canada, the separatist Bloc Quebecois tried in vain to push the government to act.

"If the industry makes a request... we'll look at it objectively," said Andrew Hannan, a spokesperson for Canada's department of international trade, noting no such request had been made.

In fact, only a handful of small and medium-sized businesses have complained to the unions.

"The representatives of the Canadian and Quebec clothing industry are no longer the true representatives of the industry. In most cases, they're the ones importing textiles," Aristeo said.

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