The administration of US President George Bush announced late on Friday that it had decided to reimpose quotas on three categories of clothing imports from China, responding to pleas from domestic producers that a surge of Chinese imports was threatening thousands of American jobs.

The move "violates the spirit of free trade and the basic principles of the World Trade Organisation," said Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Chong Quan in a statement on the ministry's website.

Increasing exports

China is a dominant competitor in the $350 billion-a-year world textile trade and its shipments into the United States rose sharply after 1 January when global quotas that had been in effect for three decades were eliminated.

The latest US action will impose limits on the amount of cotton trousers, cotton knit shirts and underwear that China can export to the United States, a step that American retailers argue will drive up prices for US consumers.

"The Chinese side urges the United States to correct its error in order to prevent the implementation of trade protectionism measures from casting a shadow on the trade relations between the two sides," Chong said.

He also said China retained the right to take "further measures under the framework of the WTO", but he did not specify what they might be.