Europe on Wednesday finally agreed to end its dispute over Chinese textile imports, clearing the way for about 77m impounded pullovers, trousers and bras to be released into the shops next week.

Officials from the 25 member states voted overwhelmingly to back a deal between the EU and China to remove the backlog of goods, with only Lithuania refusing to endorse the settlement.

Weeks of wrangling over Chinese textile quotas have strained relations between the EU and Beijing and highlighted splits between free traders and protectionists in Europe.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark’s prime minister, on Wednesday fiercely attacked the defensive, protectionist mindset in the EU that had pushed the European Commission into imposing quotas on Chinese textile exports.

“I believe that the agreement to limit Chinese exports to the EU does not take into account the realities of modern international commerce,” he told centre-right politicians in France, many of whom wanted the quotas.

Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner, has also said trade barriers in a world of fast-flowing goods was about as effective as the Maginot Line, the French defensive wall bypassed by German invaders in 1940.

Mr Mandelson negotiated the new quotas with China on June 10, under pressure from EU textile producers who were alarmed at the surge of Chinese imports after the end of all trade restrictions on January 1 2005. But the new system caused chaos in the retail chain and provoked a stampede for import licences that quickly overwhelmed the agreed quotas.

Mr Mandelson has said it would take a great deal of persuasion to undertake such an operation again but his aides admit that there are still considerable protectionist forces at work in Europe.

On Wednesday, only Lithuania, which has a big textiles sector, refused to back the deal struck between the EU and China under which half the blocked goods would be waved through by the Europeans while the other half would count against Chinese textile quotas for 2006 or against other unfilled textile quotas.

The dispute has exasperated free-traders like Mr Rasmussen, who said on Wednesday that the EU should be encouraging companies to take advantage of globalisation to increase their competitiveness. But the recent textiles agreement would only punish those same enterprises. “This example of protectionism takes place in an area where companies have had 10 years to prepare for competition from China. ““Such protectionism is bad policy for Europe,” he said.

please keep last par Mr Rasmussen has been invited by France’s ruling UMP party to address a convention on how to reform the French social model.

One of the leading lobbyists in France pushing for limits to be placed on Chinese textiles imports was Guillaume Sarkozy, head of the French textiles association and brother of Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of the ruling UMP that invited Mr Rasmussen to speak at his convention.

The Danish prime minister also took advantage of the occasion to champion the importance of free trade.

“We must carry out the necessary reforms to prepare our societies for the future. Secondly we must work to liberalise our trade through free and open markets,” he said.

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