With the imminent lifting of textile and garment quotas at the end of 2004, the trade scene looked set to become a web of political tripwires for China and the Bush administration, just voted in for a second term.
The first warning sign came days before the election with an announcement of a US quota on the importation of Chinese-made socks.
That was met with a warning from the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing that it would "retain the right to take further actions" within the WTO framework.
Days later, the ministry reiterated its warning amid reports that the Bush administration had accepted a petition from the US garment industry and would consider imposing a quota on Chinese-made cotton trousers.
A spokesman said the proposed US restrictions ran counter to WTO principles of free trade, and would violate both the conditions in the legal documents for China's WTO admission as well as US domestic rules.
The US moves are seen by some as the first in a possible series of restrictions designed to protect US manufacturers resulting from the termination of the global Agreement on Textiles and Clothing.
The sock quota will restrict imports of Chinese cotton and man-made fiber socks to year-on-year growth of 7.5% and growth in wool sock imports to 6%, the US Commerce Department said.
The ending of the global textiles agreement is expected to trigger a flood of products from Chinese mills onto the global market and Chinese trade officials are warning the textile sector will likely be the biggest source of friction for international trade in 2005.