The US Department of Commerce has decided not to launch an anti-dumping investigation into apparel made in Vietnam after finding "insufficient evidence" to start a probe.

The decision followed the second six-month review to determine whether apparel imports from Vietnam are unfairly priced.

The agency examined import data for five different apparel product groups from Vietnam - trousers, shirts, underwear, swimwear and sweaters - during the six months from August 2007 through January 2008.

Unit values and import levels were then compared to other suppliers of these products, including Bangladesh, CAFTA-DR (Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua), India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Macau, Malaysia and the Philippines.

"Our investigation reveals that prices of Vietnamese apparel are in line with, and in most cases even exceed, other major suppliers, including Central America," said assistant secretary for import administration David Spooner.

US importers and retailers described the decision as "a relief," but say it continues to hold a false cloud over apparel sourcing from Vietnam.

"It does absolutely nothing to help US textile manufacturers," charges Laura E Jones, executive director of the US Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel (USA-ITA), who points out that any orders moved from Vietnam because of the uncertainty created by the monitoring program are going to neighboring countries in Asia.

"The real damage," she claims, "is to American consumers, because they have fewer choices and higher prices.

"US importers and retailers are reluctant to place too many orders in Vietnam so long as there is the possibility that the Administration will play politics with that business."

So far the Commerce Department has reviewed 12 months of trade data as part of a monitoring programme that began when Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January 2007.

But it said it would continue to examine imports from Vietnam to ensure apparel is not dumped into the US market threatening the competitiveness of American manufacturers.

The Monitoring Program is due to terminate on 19 January 2009, when President Bush leaves office, with the next six-monthly review beginning in September 2008.