US trade chiefs on Tuesday pledged to get tough on illegal textile imports and said they expect to develop new technology to help combat the multi-billion dollar crime within the next 18 months.

The promise came during a briefing by commerce and energy department officials to textile industry leaders at the North Carolina Centre for Applied Textile Technology in Belmont, one of the region's hardest hit by the demise of the US textile sector.

Among the hi-tech anti-smuggling measures they will look at are new marking processes that "hide" tracers on the fabric through the use of DNA, dye, watermarks or light imaging, so customs can trace its source of origin.

Commerce official Jim Leonard said: "I don't know the magnitude of the fraud problem. I just know it's out there. Assuming this system gets put in place, we're going to slow that fraud.

"We are serious about this. I'm very excited and I think it has great potential."

He stressed any technology introduced would have to be expensive to copy to deter smuggling gangs and pose no public health risk.