The EU's executive commission the EC is today launching a probe into surging Chinese textile imports following the end of global export quotas at the start of 2005.

The probe into nine categories of textiles signals the first move toward formal safeguard limits on some Chinese clothing imports and comes after increasing pressure for quick action by EU states.

"The EC has decided to launch an investigation into Chinese textile imports to the EU in nine product categories, as proposed by Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson," the EC said in a statement.

The probe, confirmed yesterday, covers T-shirts, pullovers, blouses, stockings and socks, men's trousers, women's overcoats, brassieres, flax or ramie yarn and woven fabrics flax - and would last for a maximum of 60 days, the EC said.

EU textile producers are concerned that thousands of jobs could be lost if urgent action is not taken to stem the flow of Chinese clothing that was kick-started by the end of the 31-year-old global textiles quota system at the start of January 2005.

Chinese textile imports into the EU have jumped as much as 534 per cent for some garment categories since the end of the quota system, which far exceeds limits the EC considers tolerable.

An EU spokeswoman for trade issues said that the EC had so far received letters from Greece, France and Italy requesting emergency action.

The Spanish government also said yesterday that it too had asked the EC to accelerate the investigation.

Mandelson, however, has urged European manufacturers calling for limits on Chinese textiles to consider the possible fallout on other companies.

"I have to be mindful of all those European interests," he said. "It doesn't work one way, you have to see both sides of the coin, and I hope that those who are debating this issue and representing industrial interests will bear in mind that there is more than one set of European interests in this question."

When China joined the World Trade Organisation, it agreed that a trading partner could impose a temporary limit on its textile and clothing exports.

But the nation this week responded angrily to discussions over an investigation into its textile exports.

"This decision is against the usual position of free trade, of the EU government and threatens the long-term stable development of the China-EU textile trade," said Commerce Ministry spokesman Chong Quan.

"This decision violates the principles of the WTO; it is also against the relevant articles in the report when China entered the WTO (in 2001)," he added.