Leading figures in the US textile industry have called on the country's customs service to step up security measures and increase its vigilance against shipments being smuggled in from other countries.

In a stark warning following the recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, they warned customs officials that if foreign fabrics can cross the border illegally then so can weapons and hazardous materials.

"Smuggling is a symptom of the porous nature of our borders in terms of cargo," said Cass Johnson, associate director for trade and special projects at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, which represents the industry.

"If you can smuggle a container of textiles, you can smuggle a biological weapon, a chemical weapon or a weapon of mass destruction."

But it is not just concern for the American public's safety that industry officials are worried about as they are also concerned about the affect illegal imports has on their economy.

Mr Johnson's group estimates that more than $500 million in textiles and apparel are smuggled into the US annually from Asia. Institute officials say smuggling is a driving factor behind 60,000 lost textile jobs in the last 12 months, including several plant closures in the south.

But customs chiefs say it is highly unlikely for terrorists to smuggle hazardous materials into the country in the same manner that foreign companies might try to smuggle linens or clothing.

They say most of the illegal activities involving fabrics aren't really smuggling but misrepresenting the country of origin in order to get around American quotas and while that has an undisputed impact on the textile business here, the agency says it is not a top priority right now.

"We are 100 per cent focused on national security," said customs spokesman Dennis Murphy. "I don't think the American people are threatened by additional shirts in the country."


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