RUSSIAN NEGOTIATOR BLASTS EU ON TEXTILES \ BRUSSELS IS ACCUSED OF ESCALATING A TRADE WAR

RUSSIAN NEGOTIATOR BLASTS EU ON TEXTILES \ BRUSSELS IS ACCUSED OF ESCALATING A TRADE WAR

Russia's chief trade negotiator with the European Union has attacked Brussels for its ''unbalanced'' and ''discriminatory'' approach to the textile trade.

''Russia has been patient enough for more than two years,'' said Georgy Gabounia, first deputy minister of foreign economic relations, ''while the EU has enjoyed a huge imbalance in the textile trade, with a fivefold surplus in favor of Brussels.''Mr. Gabounia was reacting to the failure of the Europeans and Russians to agree on terms of a new textile trade agreement; and to a letter critical of Russia's announced carpet quota. The letter was sent to Moscow recently by Hans van den Broek, the EU commissioner responsible for Russia, and Sir Leon Brittan, the EU trade commissioner. They termed the carpet quota ''completely unjustifiable.''

European press reports from Brussels have leaked contents of the letter, and accused Russia of escalating a trade war.

Russian officials say the reports ignore the fact that the EU has been imposing quotas on Russian cotton and linen exports for several years, and has refused to eliminate them.

Russian trade figures indicate that in 1996 Russia sold the EU textiles worth roughly $150 million, while the EU member states shipped Russia textile goods, including manufactured carpets, worth about $540 million. Without citing precise figures, the officials claim the gap in the EU's favor widened in 1997.

''Unilateral quotas for textiles are totally acceptable under the current agreement,'' Mr. Gabounia noted, adding that ''the EU exercised its right. Russia didn't, in the expectation of negotiating a non-quota regime. This has not been accepted. The EU has been looking for an unbalanced agreement.''

According to Mr. Gabounia, when the ministerial committee responsible for tariff policy met last month, there were proposals to impose quotas on a wide range of EU textile products, including carpets and clothing.

The decision was made to impose a quota of 16 million square meters for carpet imports for the year commencing March 19. This represents a cut of about 50 percent on last year's carpet shipments from the EU.

''The government decided to take the least restrictive option,'' Mr. Gabounia said.

Russian trade officials note that domestic carpet production, which is centered in the Moscow region, has declined tenfold since 1991, while EU carpet exports, mostly from Belgium, have doubled.

''Our domestic industry is fed up with the government's inability to strike a balanced deal,'' Mr. Gabounia said.

He also rejected a demand from the European commissioners for Moscow to drop a certification requirement for formaldehyde content in textile imports.

''There is no discrimination in this,'' explained Mr. Gabounia. ''This is a general safety rule, required for domestic producers. It can be done by European laboratories.''