"The situation created by the unprecedented surge of Chinese exports obliges us to take action," visiting EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on Wednesday.

 

"But at the same time we want to find a satisfactory solution in consultation with the Chinese and we want to avoid recourse to the safeguard measures under the WTO rules," she said.

 

European trade experts are meeting with Chinese authorities this week to try to find a way to avoid the imposition of safeguards on China's textile exports, she said.

 

"Our aim would be to find a common, mutual solution to this problem that, for the time being, seems to distort our markets very strongly," she said.

 

"If we find a common solution, a sort of voluntary solution, then I'm confident we don't need this special mechanism."

 

Special mechanism

 

The "special mechanism" or safeguard clause under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules allows countries to limit textile imports if they rise too sharply and severely disrupt local markets.

 

This has become a concern after the global abolition of an international quota system on 1 January 2005.

 

The European Commission launched an investigation into select textile and garment categories last month after evidence that exports surged by as much as 534% after the 31-year-old system ended.

 

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson previously said he expected to have sufficient information by June regarding Chinese textile exports to determine whether to seek a reduction.

 

A similar investigation is under way in the United States, which has also recorded a surge in textile imports from China since the start of the year.

 

Other issues

 

Ferrero-Waldner also said she hoped to launch negotiations later this year on a more wide-ranging framework agreement with China.

 

Other issues under discussion during her visit include fleshing out details of visa and readmission agreements under which China would take back illegal Chinese immigrants to Europe.