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Japan’s towel makers have made a formal request to the government to curb rising textile exports from China and other developing countries. Emergency import restrictions, known as safeguards, are internationally recognized as an exception to the free-trade rules of the World Trade Organization. So far, Japan, a declared free trader, has not taken this measure of last resort, although the government is now weighing whether or not to invoke it against imports of farm products such as vegetables.

Safeguards can be imposed temporarily when sharp increases in imports of a particular type of product have caused, or threaten to cause, serious damage to the domestic producers involved. Towel imports, about 80 percent of them from China, have increased 50 percent over the past four years. As a result, domestic production has dropped 25 percent. Imported towels now account for nearly two-thirds of the domestic demand.

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