China's trade negotiators are currently talking with their US and European counterparts about the country's rapidly growing textile exports.
As in most trade disputes, unilateral action is not constructive. Trade wars benefit no one.
Representatives of all parties should be willing to make concessions.
Much is at stake, foremost of all the fates of textile workers of related parties.
China's textile sector directly employs 19 million people and many millions more in supporting roles.
The latest restrictions by the United States alone affect 160,000 jobs on the Chinese side.
The results of the negotiations will also have a bearing on Sino-EU and Sino-US trade ties as well as the course of free trade.
Chinese socks and shirts, at the moment, have taken on symbolic meaning in terms of the US trade deficit and Europe's constitutional woes over job losses.
With all this in mind, negotiators must have found the talks some of their hardest to date.
The key weapon used by the US and EU is the "special safeguard" clause in the protocol for China's accession to the World Trade Organization. But the evidence used so far to prove Chinese textiles have upset their domestic market order has been anything but sufficient.
Their underlying goal is to find an excuse for restrictive measures to answer calls from their domestic textile associations.
The reality is, the US and EU should blame themselves for not adequately preparing their domestic textile enterprises in the years before global textile trade was liberalized at the beginning of this year.
Even so, the Chinese side has displayed understanding of the complex issue and has shown a willingness to give EU and US competitors space in their restructuring efforts.
The country announced a higher tax on its textile exports earlier last month, which was revoked only after the US and EU cold-shouldered the move and continued on their path to enforce trade restrictions.
However, the Chinese side's flexible attitude remains. Commerce Minister Bo Xilai called for joint efforts to keep Sino-US and Sino-EU trade relations healthy.
The US and EU should lessen their demands to keep the ball rolling.
Parties involved in the textile trade dispute should also be aware that the outcome of the talks will have repercussions for the development of global free trade.
The abolishment of the quota system in textile trade was a significant achievement of the Uruguay Round of global trade talks.
Failed China-US, China-EU talks will only add to people's suspicion over Western dedication to free trade.
And it will cast a new shadow over the Doha Round, whose progress has already shown strain.
(China Daily June 1, 2005)