Concerned US textile chiefs on Wednesday called on the government to take immediate action to stop the flood of low-cost fibre and clothing imports from China which they say threaten the livelihood of textile workers around the world.

The American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) made its plea after the Commerce Department published long-awaited rules governing the use of a "safeguard" mechanism to restrict textile and apparel imports from China.

China agreed to the safeguard mechanism when it joined the World Trade Organisation in late 2001 but the agreement required the United States to eliminate quotas on 22 categories of apparel from China ahead of the phasing out of quotas in 2005.

ATMI bosses cited statistics showing that in the categories the safeguard has been available for, China increased its exports last year to the US by $1 billion while China's competitors saw their own exports drop over the same period by $800 million.

ATMI president, Parks Shackelford, warned: "If this safeguard is not used quickly and comprehensively, it will mean disaster for this country's, as well as the rest of the world's, textile and apparel workers."

"The safeguard was included in China's WTO accession agreement in recognition of the unique threat that China's vast subsidised textile and apparel sector posed to millions of textile and apparel workers in the United States and around the world.

"The past 17 months have been proof plenty that, without its effective use, China will put the textile and apparel industries in virtually every other country, including the US with its nearly one million textile and apparel workers, out of business."

He continued: "After the disastrous Vietnam bilateral textile agreement last month, ATMI is looking for the US government to make good its commitments to the industry by effectively employing the China textile safeguard.

"At a time when US manufacturing is under siege and good paying jobs are increasingly scarce, the government must move quickly on the existing ATMI petitions as well as on new petitions that ATMI and other groups are now preparing."