Less than a month after an American lawmaker asked the US government to collect data on clothing shipments from China, the International Trade Commission (ITC) has agreed to monitor some of the country's textile and apparel imports.

The ITC said on Friday (31 October) that it will provide statistical reports every two weeks on the volume, value, unit value, and import market share of certain textile and apparel item from China.

The data will cover the 34 customs categories of Chinese textile and apparel products currently under safeguard restrictions - which are set to expire on 31 December.

The ITC's response follows a request from House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles B Rangel (D-NY) earlier in October.

The Committee said it is concerned that a 'market disrupting' surge in imports from China could occur when existing restrictions are lifted at the end of the year.

The first statistical report will be filed by 1 December, and will include an historical compilation of the volume, value, unit value, and import market share of the articles being monitored from 1 January 2003 to the most recent month available.

Subsequently, the ITC will provide the Committee with reports every two weeks as the data becomes available. The ITC also will publish an annual data compilation. All reports will be posted on the ITC website.

Chairman Rangel's actions come after 73 US lawmakers, ten textile and fibre industry trade groups and the labour union Unite Here sent letters to President George W Bush, US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab at the end of September urging an extension of a scheme already in place on apparel imports from Vietnam.

Seventeen international textile and apparel organisations who benefit from US trade preferences in NAFTA, CAFTA, and African countries also lent their support to the initiative.

Trade groups representing US retailers and importers say the move and its timing are "not a surprise."

But if it finds the US market is being disrupted or being threatened with disruption, it could well be a precursor to quotas, tariffs, or a combination of both.

And the mere threat of protectionist actions is likely to be enough to deter US importers and retailers from placing any more orders in China.

However, a similar import monitoring program has been in place on Vietnam's textile and clothing imports since it joined the WTO at the beginning of 2007, but has so far failed to show any evidence for initiating an anti-dumping case.

Cynics also point out that chairman Rangel's request is for data that has already been compiled and is readily available to anyone who wants it. The ITC will simply be reporting that data in a new format.