Trade negotiators today will discuss limiting Vietnamese clothing exports to the United States following skyrocketing sales during the past year.

A U.S. delegation is scheduled to meet with Vietnamese counterparts in Hanoi for three days of talks on apparel and fabric quotas. The agenda was pushed back by a day when bad weather delayed the American departure from Washington.

Clothing imports from Vietnam increased more than 1,500 percent to $824 million from 2001 to 2002, according to U.S. government figures through November.

U.S.-based textile and apparel manufacturers are pushing the Bush administration to negotiate an agreement with Vietnam that imposes quotas, limiting clothing shipments to the United States.

Imports are increasing at a rate of 50 million square meters a month, threatening U.S. companies, according to the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, a Washington-based industry group.

The Bush administration can unilaterally impose quotas on Vietnam’s textile and apparel exports at any time because Vietnam is not a member of the World Trade Organization.

But retailers warn that Vietnam, which currently is not subject to quotas, is a strategically important source of apparel and is not responsible for a wave of new products entering the United States.

“The expanding trade from Vietnam is largely a reflection of business transplanted from other Asian and Middle Eastern suppliers, including Myanmar [Burma],” said a letter from 35 retailers, including Eddie Bauer, Gap, JC Penney, Kmart, Neiman Marcus and Sears Roebuck.

Vietnamese officials hope they can avoid quotas — or at least set them at levels that allow for steady sales.

“Textiles is one of the major exports of Vietnam. Quotas would be difficult for us and disappointing for us,” said Khien Nguyen Duy, commercial counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington.

Clothing and textile exports are the country’s second-biggest earner of foreign exchange after crude oil and support about 2 million jobs, he said.

Clothing has not been the only Vietnam export that has rankled U.S. industries.

Vietnam last week halted exports of catfish to the United States after the U.S. Commerce Department recommended import duties from 38 percent to 64 percent on the fish, the Associated Press reported.

The Commerce Department on Jan. 27 announced in a preliminary finding that Vietnamese producers have made sales to U.S. customers at less than fair market value. A final ruling is expected later this year.

The trade group Catfish Farmers of America in June 2002 requested the investigation, claiming that the Vietnamese unfairly competed. Vietnam and the United States signed a bilateral trade agreement in June 2001. In December 2001, the country was granted normal trade relations with the United States, a move that significantly reduced trade barriers on most Vietnamese exports to America.

U.S. exports to Vietnam increased to $530 million from $461 million from the first 11 months of 2001 to the first 11 months of 2002, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

U.S. imports from Vietnam increased to $2.26 billion from $1.14 billion in that same time, the Census Bureau said.

U.S.-Vietnam trade virtually ceased in 1975 when the communist North defeated U.S.-backed South Vietnam. President Clinton lifted a trade embargo in 1994, and diplomatic relations resumed the following year.