US textile groups have filed the first of an expected flood of safeguard petitions to restrict imports from China on men's and boy's and women's and girl's cotton trousers - categories that include jeans and khakis.

The request was submitted to the federal government on Friday, and up to 10 more petitions are expected this week covering imports such as woven shirts, knit shirts and tops, knit underwear, men's dress shirts, and women's blouses, skirts and dresses.

Under World Trade Organisation rules, the government has 15 days to accept or reject a petition. This means it will be forced to decide before the election on 2 November whether or not to accept the industry's request for safeguard measures.

The industry wants the protections in place shortly after quotas expire on 31 December 2004.

US trade groups fear that unless restraints are put in place, Chinese-made imports will surge once quotas are eliminated and that hundreds of thousands of US jobs could be lost.

Protests from textile associations in more than 50 countries have failed to extend quotas for at least three years.

Last year, the US imported $11.4 billion worth of woven pants, representing 18 per cent of all imported apparel.

If the Bush administration accepts the petitions it can impose a one-year quota on Chinese goods at a level 7.5 per cent higher than the previous year's imports. The safeguards can then be renewed for two additional years.

But apparel retailers and importers against the restraints argue that under WTO rules the United States can only react once there is evidence of a surge in imports.