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China Imports Continue to Surge

WASHINGTON — China has more than doubled its share of U.S. textile and apparel imports in the past two years and maintained that momentum in October, largely contributing to the highest 10-month import period on record, the Commerce...

WASHINGTON — China has more than doubled its share of U.S. textile and apparel imports in the past two years and maintained that momentum in October, largely contributing to the highest 10-month import period on record, the Commerce Department’s trade report revealed Tuesday.

While worldwide imports of textiles and apparel to the U.S. rose by 203.1 million square meters equivalent to 4.06 billion SME in October, Chinese exports to the U.S. increased 29.8 percent, a 245.5 million SME jump to 1.07 billion SME.

In the first nine months of the year, global imports of textiles and apparel rose 10.1 percent, or 3.58 billion SME over the same period last year, to 39.2 billion SME, marking the highest 10-month period on record. Imports from China over the past 10 months rose 29.9 percent, to 2.416 billion SME.

China’s share of all U.S. apparel and textile imports grew to 24.62 percent for the year ended Oct. 31. By comparison, China had a 12.96 percent share of all U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2002 — the year some products were removed from quota as part of a global phaseout of quotas. Mexico, the second-largest supplier of textiles and apparel to the U.S., had an 8.8 percent share for the year ended Oct. 31, while Canada, the third-largest supplier, had a 7.1 percent share.

China continued to post the biggest import increases and dominate in categories no longer under quota, such as quilts and comforters, tablecloths and napkins, man-made fiber woven bags, luggage and infants’ wear.

China’s dominance of global apparel and textile trade comes at a time when countries and industry groups around the world have stepped up the pressure on the country to restrict its imports. In a move apparently designed to show it is taking the concerns of both developed and developing countries into account, China announced Sunday it will begin to impose a tax on its textile exports. However, Chinese officials have provided little detail about the initiative and trade observers disagree over China’s motives.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is reviewing 10 China safeguard petitions and is set to rule on whether to impose quota limits on certain Chinese apparel and textile products in February. The U.S. government has also been sued by the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, which seeks to halt the review and acceptance of threat-based petitions. The U.S. is expected to file its response today and a hearing has been scheduled for Monday.

This story first appeared in the December 15, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In just three of the categories released from quota, China has increased its volume exponentially. In one basket category that contains blankets, travel rugs, quilts, comforters and curtains, China’s import share rose from 5.6 percent in 2001 to 65.6 percent for the year, while its import share in another merged category including luggage and handbags rose from 2.48 percent to 88 percent during the same period and its share of man-made fiber woven bags and tents rose from 2.48 percent to 46.7 percent. On a volume basis, the import increases respectively were 4,594 percent, 1,226 percent and 3,139 percent.

“It’s just further proof that China is capable of and poised to consume a large share of the U.S. market,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. “It’s just nonsensical for anyone to argue there isn’t a threat associated with China’s ability to impact the U.S. market.”

Tantillo said it is “stunning” one country is enjoying such growth, but he claimed it doesn’t mean China is more efficient than India, Pakistan or the Philippines.

“By bashing China on these petitions, are they bringing any more business into Central America [a huge market for U.S. textile exports] or business into the U.S. in terms of fabric production?” asked Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “The answer is no. The beneficiaries of these petitions if CITA accepts some of them will be India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

While China posted a 29.86 percent increase in exports to the U.S. of apparel, seven of the top 10 suppliers posted declines in the first 10 months of the year.

Apparel imports from Mexico fell 5.1 percent, driven by a decline in men’s and boys’ cotton knit shirts and cotton underwear, while apparel shipments from Honduras fell 5.95 percent, primarily due to a decline in cotton underwear. Imports from Bangladesh fell 2.6 percent due to a decline in cotton blouses and sweaters; El Salvador’s fell 7.1 percent due to a decrease in cotton underwear and nightwear, and imports from Hong Kong dropped 7.6 percent on a drop in infants’ wear, man-made fiber sweaters and trousers and man-made fiber underwear and nightwear.

Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the USA-ITA, said the nonapparel picture, which includes imports of textiles and made-ups, is the exact opposite of the apparel import picture.

“That’s where everybody is up,” said Hughes. “China, Pakistan, Mexico, South Korea and India are all up. There is no question that China is increasing, but China is growing in [products no longer under quota] and that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is contracting either.”