WASHINGTON — U.S. textile groups ratcheted up the pressure on the Bush administration Wednesday, saying they would file dozens of petitions this month seeking to reimpose quotas on apparel and textile imports from China based on the threat of market disruption.

“We have confirmed with the U.S. government that we are well within our rights to file cases based on threat,” Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said during a press conference with the National Council of Textile Organizations and the National Textile Association. “In recent weeks we have gone back to the government and…we received assurances based on a legal review.”

The three groups said they plan to file petitions on cotton and man-made fiber, men’s and women’s trousers and shirts, women’s blouses, skirts and dresses, and key home furnishing categories.

Tantillo said Commerce requires one petition per product but said he would like to minimize the paperwork and redundancy by creating a template of Chinese production capacity and subsidies, and fill it in with data on specific categories.

The 147 members of the World Trade Organization on Jan. 1 are to lift quotas on billions of dollars worth of apparel and textile trade. U.S. textile groups claim the move will be a death knell for their industries and a boon for China, and could wipe out the remaining 702,500 jobs associated with textile and apparel production in the U.S., as well as destroy some of the 30 million jobs worldwide.

Supporters say lifting quotas will energize the international market and result in lower consumer prices.

The U.S. is the largest textile and apparel importer in the world, importing more than $77 billion worth of textile and apparel in 2003. Of that total, more than $61 billion was in categories where quotas are to expire, according to the textile coalition.

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. It is unclear where federal regulatory agencies stand on threat-based petitions, and some appear to contradict one another.

Jim Leonard, deputy assistant security of textiles, apparel and consumer goods at the Commerce Department, appeared to cast some doubt Wednesday on whether the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, the interagency group that oversees and reviews the petitions, would accept petitions based on threat, despite the textile industry’s claims it has received such assurances.

This story first appeared in the September 2, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Leonard told WWD that CITA, comprising representatives from Commerce, State, Treasury, Labor and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, is still considering how to handle threat-based petitions. Asked whether CITA would accept threat-based petitions, Leonard said: “We are just not there at this point.”

Another U.S. trade official recently said the government would not reject outright petitions based on threat.

Leonard stressed the China safeguard procedures deal only with market disruption and not the threat of disruption. “The procedure we’ve got out there deals with market disruption,” he said. “If we do anything differently [such as threat-based petitions] we will have to come up with something different.”

That statement infuriated the domestic textile groups who believed officials had opened the door to such petitions, which is the primary reason they held Wednesday’s news conference. They said they cannot wait for CITA to deliberate a new set of procedures for threat-based petitions, considering that it took CITA 17 months to publish procedures on market disruption.

Later, a Commerce spokeswoman said, “In reviewing petitions, we consider whether the petition includes the information required in our published procedures and whether it includes sufficient specific factual data necessary to make a determination as to whether imports are disrupting or threatening to disrupt the U.S. market.”