A 35 percent surge in textile and garment imports from China since quotas expired on January 1, has prompted the Bush administration to open an inquiry into whether temporary safeguards are needed to protect U.S. jobs.

This followed the filing of petitions April 6 by UNITE HERE, the union representing textile and garment workers, requesting temporary safeguards to limit imports of brassieres, shirts, sweaters, trousers, nightgowns and synthetic fabric. These products represent 8.1 percent of the $17.8 billion in textiles and apparel imports from China annually.

A trade protocol signed by the Chinese, lets the U.S. impose special limits on Chinese textile imports, simply if it is “believed” that they will cause disruption, says Gary Clyde Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, D.C. Hufbauer stresses, the provision is unique in that it allows limitations solely on Chinese imports. “When you look at the law,” he says, “the U.S. government has a lot of discretion to limit imports.”

Hufbauer notes, however, that the lobby against imposing trade sanctions against China runs strong and deep, with major U.S. corporations, including Citibank, Boeing and Microsoft, as well as retailers opposing them. While he expects Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to conclude that safeguards are needed on some products, “I don't see a whole lot of restrictions coming out of this process,” Hufbauer says.