A flood of cheap Chinese imports has prompted several Japanese textile companies to consider petitioning the Government to invoke GATT article 19, which would effectively place a limit on the amount of Chinese textiles allowed into Japan.

Imports of Chinese textile products jumped by 31.2 per cent year-on-year in October to 200bn yen ($3.3bn).

"The application (by companies to invoke article 19) has not been submitted yet but it is true that part of the textile industry is interested," said Akihiko Tamura, deputy director of WTO affairs at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). However, invoking the procedure would be a major step back according to a European trade official based in Tokyo.

This is the first time that Japan has considered invoking the procedure, a step that would conflict with progress towards free trade among Asian countries. Japan plans to start free trade agreement (FTA) talks with Singapore early next year. Other prospective FTA partners include South Korea, Mexico, and Malaysia - all countries with major textile sectors.