WASHINGTON — A top U.S. Department of Commerce aide, Grant Aldonas, undersecretary for international trade, is to meet with high-level officials in China next week as domestic textile groups turn up the pressure on the Bush administration to restrict Chinese imports.

The session has led to speculation that Aldonas will warn the Chinese about the possibility that the U.S. textile industry will file petitions seeking to reimpose quotes on specific apparel categories and use the threat as leverage to jump-start talks on a comprehensive quota agreement. Aldonas tried to draw the Chinese to the table in March, but the government refused to negotiate.

With the 30-year-old quota system set to end Jan. 1 and jobs and the impact of free trade on them key issues in the U.S. presidential campaign, domestic textile groups that argue a quota-free world will be a boon for China and the death knell for their industries are looking for some relief from the feared onslaught of imports from China.

Industry groups are expected to file scores of petitions in advance of quota elimination, seeking to extend them for certain apparel and textile categories. Textile association executives will hold a news conference today to underscore the need for China safeguard petitions, the timing for filing them and which categories would be targeted.

The Bush administration until now has only considered safeguard actions that contain trade and domestic production data as evidence to support allegations of market disruption. The domestic textile industry is calling on the administration to accept the safeguards based on the potential threat.

Many executives say the industry is severely damaged by the market disruption criteria, which calls for several months’ worth of import data to prove a surge from China. If the government approves threat-based petitions, the industry might have quotas imposed for a year on sensitive categories such as knit tops and cotton pants, before they go quota-free.

An administration official recently said the government would not reject such petitions outright.

“We are asking the government to help us define relevant threat-based criteria,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents U.S. mills. “We believe we are 100 percent within our rights to file these cases.”

This story first appeared in the September 1, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

As for Aldonas’ mission, Tantillo said, “We strongly encourage them to confront the Chinese in regard to the phaseout issue and the need for some sort of rational system to prevent massive disruption.”

Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation, said: “I don’t see the Chinese being pressured into a comprehensive agreement. The U.S. tried before and was not successful.”

Cass Johnson, president of the National Council for Textile Organizations, said things have changed since the last attempt in March to get the Chinese to negotiate a comprehensive agreement.

“There is a large international coalition that has made their concerns known at the WTO level,” Johnson said. “The Chinese are under increasing pressure around the world to sit down and reach an agreement.”