Nov. 2, 2004--With the presidential election coming down to the wire and several key states still up for grabs, the Bush administration last week indicated that it was open to the idea of restricting certain Chinese imports in the hopes of protecting American textile makers.

The Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, an arm of the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration, decided to consider a petition from an organization representing textile manufacturers and workers' unions asking for safeguards against imports of Chinese cotton trousers. The decision, which paves the way for a public review process, comes two months before an agreement among World Trade Organization members takes effect in January that would roll back significant international import quotas, paving the way for what some expect will be a rapid increase in imports of inexpensive Chinese textiles.

"Our industry is looking for our government to approve these petitions and prevent China from taking over virtually the entire U.S. textile and apparel market, at the expense of U.S. jobs," said Allen Gant, chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations, in a statement.

The NCTO estimated the value of 2003 U.S. trouser production, including components exported offshore for re-export to the United States, at $8.2 billion, while claiming that U.S. imports of cotton trousers exceeded $11 billion during the same time period.

"There is no doubt that China will surge into the U.S. market after quotas expire in 2005," said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition.

The decision to consider protectionist quotas seemed to contradict another recent trade policy maneuver that paved the way for increased U.S. trade with the European Union. Just last week the E.U. indicated that it would rescind import duties aimed at U.S. exporters after President Bush signed a bill designed to eliminate exporter tax loopholes. That trade dispute had been simmering since March, when the WTO ruled that a part of the U.S. tax code amounted to a tax subsidy for American exporters, allowing the E.U. to initiate retaliatory tariffs.