US textile imports in 2002 jumped nearly 17 per cent to more than 38 billion square metres of fabric worth $72 billion, the highest levels ever recorded by the US Commerce Department.

And for the first time in eight years, imports of Chinese-made textile products surpassed those from Mexico. The latest trade figures from the department showed textile imports from China increased 125 per cent, to nearly 5 billion square metres worth $8.7 billion.

Quotas on infant garments were removed last year, and imports from China in 2002 surged more than nine times 2001 levels.

Soaring imports of autos and other consumer goods propelled the nation's trade deficit to a record $435 billion in 2002. The biggest trade gap was with China, from where the US imported $125 billion but exported only $22 billion - a $103 billion deficit.