United States customs officials have launched a new round of confidential visits to Hong Kong textile factories to check on alleged illegal shipments. Government officials would not confirm the factory inspections but US trade lawyers said Hong Kong textile factories had been visited by customs officers during the past 10 days. The lawyers, who did not wish to be named, said they expected a new round of Hong Kong companies to be blacklisted in the wake of the latest visits. They had been alerted to the visits because their clients included US textile importers that sourced their goods from Hong Kong. Hong Kong and US trade officials have been working together to crack down on illegal transshipments of mainland-made textiles into the US using SAR quotas. US customs officials have made several visits to the SAR in a bid to stamp out the practice. Hong Kong's Trade Department has backed the initiative by tightening its procedures and toughening penalties. Its measures include the creation of a sophisticated database to check production; targeted factory checks; and a production notification system which enables real-time verification. US officials have drawn up a blacklist of Hong Kong companies it alleges have performed illegal exports. They have imposed tough requirements on importers that can result in shipments being delayed at ports for several weeks. Tactics include demanding highly detailed documentation that can require specification of production equipment and even time cards of the Hong Kong employees who work on the goods. A requirement that the documentation 'must be understandable' to US officials means some documents have to be translated from Chinese. US trade bodies have complained to the Government about the paper work. The Asian economic crisis has increased competition for Hong Kong and mainland textile exporters from other regional exporters, such as Indonesia and Korea. Textile and apparel imports from the region increased by more than 14 per cent during the first half of the year. The US deficit with Asia's newly industrialised economies - Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea - increased to $2.4 billion in June from $1.6 billion the previous month. In June, trade with the mainland grew to $4.7 billion from $4.6 billion in May - the largest since October 1997 when it was $5.2 billion.