Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It is all our fault

For sheer chutzpah nothing can beat Trade Commissar Peter Mandelson’s latest pronouncements on the Chinese import crisis. It is all their fault, he cries. Whose fault precisely? Well, the member states, and the retailers and the Chinese producers and every Tom, Dick or Harry, but never Peter or his colleagues.

According to the Financial Times

“… on Tuesday[he] warned of clothes shortages for European retailers and higher prices for consumers if the trade crisis which has left millions of Chinese garments piling up at Europe's ports was not resolved.”
Last we heard he was pooh-poohing the suggestion that there might be problems. No longer, it seems:

“The consequences of not doing so [resolving the crisis] will be severe economic pain for many small retailers and businesses in the member states.”
Right. But is he not getting an enormous commissarial salary with expenses and perks specifically to resolve such crises? The trouble is that people who signed various contracts, whether they be retailers in the EU or producers in China, insist that those contracts are valid and should be kept to. Beijing is refusing to “meet the EU half-way”, or, in other words giving in to pressure. Beijing can afford to hold out.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that various textile businesses in China belong, if not outright, then partially to European and British firms. So they, too, will suffer.

Mr Mandelson sees things differently:
“They [China] have a moral and political obligation to help find a solution to a problem which is not the fault of any one person, organisation or country.”
Really? Other people say that this is exactly the fault of the European Commission and the Council of Minister, who between them created a vast commercial problem. Why, precisely, should the Chinese shoulder some kind of a “moral and political obligation” to pull Mr Mandelson’s chestnuts out of the fire?

Even the FT found Commissar Mandelson’s self-righteous pronouncements a little hard to stomach:
“Mr Mandelson attemped to cast the blame widely for the embarrassing trade fiasco, accusing EU member states and China of being slow to put into place the quotas agreed on June 10. …

Mr Mandelson said he had not favoured going down the route of trade protection in the first place, but had been forced to do so by political and public pressure in the member states.”
Well, presumably, he could have stood up for free trade, especially it was only a few states and even within those only a few lobbying organizations that have been “putting pressure” on the poor little lad. The retailers in France, a significantly larger and more important group economically than the producers, are as angry as the retailers in Britain. But hey, it is all their fault. Or that of the Chinese. Or somebody’s.

Meanwhile, today’s editorial in the Daily Telegraph gives a slightly different gloss.
“Having been persuaded against his better judgment to negotiate a deal with China, Mr Mandelson has since given the impression of not knowing which way to turn. First, he unfairly blamed retailers for ordering goods which then piled up at European ports.

On Sunday, reminding us of his initial scepticism on trade restrictions, he turned his fire on the commission of which he is a member, EU governments and China. He has given confusing signals on the probable shortfall in deliveries to European retailers, and now finds himself desperately seeking a concession from Beijing before Tony Blair leads an EU delegation to a summit there next week.

In short, Mr Mandelson has confirmed his reputation as a partisan political operator who lacks the intellectual clout and management skills necessary to hold down a big portfolio. ”
It is not, they point out, a pretty sight to watch the democratic states of Europe argue protectionism against an authoritarian state. But, of course, it is not the democratic states of Europe who are doing the arguing but the entirely undemocratic, protectionist and anti-business European Union.


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