The U.S. textile trade deficit rose to an all-time high of $73.1 billion last year, leading textile manufacturing groups to question how high it will be in 2005 if the Bush administration doesn't invoke safeguard provisions soon.

The increase in the textile trade deficit, which accounted for nearly 12% of the total 2004 U.S. trade deficit of $617.7 billion, also a record, occurred while textile import quotas were still in place for most categories of textile and apparel entering the U.S. Those quotas expired Jan. 1.

U.S. retailers imported $89.25 billion of textile and apparel goods in 2004, or more than five times the total U.S. textile and apparel exports of $16.15 billion. The difference between the export and import numbers is the textile trade deficit of $73.1 billion, also a record.

The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition (AMTAC) says the increase adds to the long-term decline in U.S. textile and clothing manufacturing jobs, which fell from 1.05 million in January 2001 to 683,400 in January 2005.

AMTAC says China continues to play the major role in the destruction of the U.S. textile and apparel sector. Chinese manufacturers held a 25.02% share of the U.S. textile import market in 2004 — a 40.74% increase from 2003.

The U.S. textile trade deficit with China rose by 25.3% to $17.5 billion in 2004 — 24% of the total textile deficit. The deficit figure with China was $14 billion in 2003.