China, which this year became the leading supplier of fabric and clothing to this country, agreed yesterday to drastically reduce the rapid growth of its textile shipments to the United States.
The agreement, reached here at 1 a.m. yesterday after six rounds of negotiations that started in February, will limit the growth of Chinese sales of textiles to the U.S. to about 3 percent a year for the next four years.
That is a sharp cutback from the average growth of 45 percent a year it has maintained over the past seven years. This year, Chinese textile imports are growing at a 19 percent rate, and they climbed 63 percent in 1986.
"Since China is our largest supplier of textile and apparel in volume terms, this is another significant step in controlling textile and apparel import surges into the United States," said U.S. Trade Representative Clayton K. Yeutter.
But the textile and apparel industry, which is pressing Congress to pass a quota bill, attacked the agreement as too liberal.
"This means that China will continue to take an ever larger share of our markets and U.S. workers will continue to lose jobs to the Chinese," said Robert G. Laidlaw, president of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
He said the growth of China's textile imports to the U.S. should have been limited to less than 1 percent a year, the same increase allowed the other four major suppliers -- Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan -- in agreements reached last year.
China now supplies about 14 percent of the textiles and clothing imported to the U.S. market -- the equivalent of 1.9 billion square yards of fabric.
Taiwan, which had been the leading supplier until this year, supplies 12 percent of U.S. textile imports.
Hong Kong and South Korea each account for about 9 percent of U.S. imports. Japan accounts for 5 percent of the U.S. market.
All told, those five Asian nations account for half of all the textiles imported into the United States.
China is now the world's largest exporter of textiles, which account for half of China's $32 billion in export earnings this year.
Continued high growth in overseas textile sales is seen as crucial for that country's economic development.
Without continued access to the U.S. market for its textiles, Chinese Ambassador Han Xu warned a congressional seminar here last month, China will be unable to increase its purchases of American products.
While China began exporting only the cheapest cloth and simplest garments, it now ships a full range of products and fabrics to the United States.
"They make everything -- shirts, suits, socks, underwear," said deputy U.S. textile negotiator Ron Sorini.
Chinese sales of finished clothing in the United States increased by 38 percent during the first seven months of this year, while its fabric shipments rose by just 1.7 percent, according to U.S. Commerce Department statistics.
Pointing to the high rate of imports, which it said has cost 400,000 U.S. jobs since 1981, the textile industry wants passage of a textile quota bill that would limit import growth to 1 percent a year. The bill passed the House earlier this year and is pending in the Senate, which is not expected to consider it until next spring.
President Reagan has threatened to veto a textile quota bill. Congress supported his veto last year of a more restrictive bill.
The U.S. textile industry acknowledged that employment, shipments and wages are up this year.
But it pointed to the seventh straight year of record textile imports, which produced a trade deficit of $25.4 billion in textiles -- 15 percent of the country's overall deficit.