A senior American trade official has warned that the US may impose limits on Chinese apparel imports if manufacturers can prove that such restrictions are necessary.

Speaking after talks with senior Chinese trade officials during a conference in Xiamen, China last week, Grant Aldonas, the under secretary of commerce for international trade, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: "If they can justify it and have the evidence, we're going to enforce the trade laws."

Despite warnings that the Chinese government might challenge the American policy before the World Trade Organisation, American manufacturers are expected to start filing requests for import restrictions - known as safeguards - as early as this week.

Although the US is entitled to impose safeguard limits on import surges that would hurt an American industry, it is unusual to petition to limit imports before they have caused any damage.

The American policy of pledging to remove quotas, but then reimposing limits if imports surge, could be challenged before the WTO as inconsistent.

However, Mr Aldonas was adamant that the United States would dismantle, at the end of this year, its current system of thousands of quotas for imports of specific garments and textiles from specific countries.

"We are going to live up to that bargain," he said.