US safeguard quotas on Chinese textile and apparel imports will finish as scheduled at the end of this year two leading trade officials have confirmed.

Scott Quesenberry, special textile negotiator in the office of the US Trade Representative, told delegates at the Prime Source Forum in Hong Kong earlier this month: "We are at the end of the quota system.

"At the end of this year, the US will end its quota systems with China. We don't see a follow-on programme as the rules are set by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and can't be changed."

However, while the US has no legal basis to continue with its restrictions against China after 2008, Quesenberry admitted that "The bad news is the rules nowadays include anti-dumping and counterveiling duties."

His comments were echoed by Rufus Yerxa, deputy director general of the WTO, who said: "There are still certain provisions where a country can still impose temporary safeguard measures.

"The creativity of governments to find new mechanisms is always there. The WTO cannot guarantee what governments will or won't do, but when governments do take action, the rules are there."

The US introduced restrictions on 34 customs categories imports of Chinese textile and apparel products in 2005 in response to surging shipments from China. These safeguard measures will expire on 31 December 2008.

Options to extend restrictions could include monitoring apparel imports from China to see if an anti-dumping investigation can be initiated.

Or a request for safeguard measures under the general safeguard mechanism available until 10 December 2013.

Countervailing duties could also be imposed if the US can demonstrate import prices are artificially low because of subsidies.

Quesenberry doesn't believe the threat of anti-dumping or counterveiling duties is worse than the certainties afforded by quotas.

"I don't think they'll be used as often as people think," he said, pointing out that the process is long and complicated."

By Leonie Barrie.