Official says U.S. open to limits on imports of Chinese apparel

Beijing warns it might appeal to world group


HONG KONG - A senior American trade official said here yesterday that the United States would limit apparel imports from China if American manufacturers provided evidence that such limits were needed. He spoke despite warnings from the Chinese government that it might challenge the American policy before the World Trade Organization.

Grant Aldonas, undersecretary of commerce for international trade, said he expected American manufacturers to start filing requests for import restrictions with his agency as soon as next week.

"If they can justify it and have the evidence, we're going to enforce the trade laws" by imposing import restrictions, Aldonas said at a news conference, after talks with senior Chinese trade officials in Xiamen, China.

The filings are likely to start a squabble between Beijing and Washington over whether the United States is living up to its free-trade commitments.

The United States and other industrialized nations agreed in late 1993 to remove their quotas on textile and apparel imports from developing countries at the end of this year, as part of the same broad pact that created the World Trade Organization.

But the United States also negotiated in 1993 - and in subsequent bilateral talks with China and other trading partners - an agreement to preserve its own trade laws. These laws include provisions allowing for the imposition of "safeguard" limits on surges in imports that would hurt an American industry, if the domestic industry requests such limits.

A policy of pledging to remove quotas, but then reimposing limits if imports surge, could be challenged before the WTO as inconsistent.

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