By  on October 10, 2008

WASHINGTON — Flagging consumer demand and economic pressures dragged apparel and textile imports down in August for the sixth straight month.

Apparel and textile shipments to the U.S. fell 6.4 percent to 4.68 billion square meter equivalents in August, the Commerce Department said Friday. Imports of textiles and apparel to the U.S. have fallen every month this year, except February. The volume of shipments to the U.S. fell 4.4 percent in July after declining 10 percent in June and 6 percent in May. Import numbers lag by a month, so the results of the most recent financial turmoil are not reflected.

Import volume in August was the lowest for the month since 2004, according to Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel. Apparel and textile shipments from Vietnam rose 18 percent in August to 175 million SME. The only other major countryto show a rise in goods shipped to the U.S. was India, which increased shipments by 1.2 percent to 262 million SME.

Imports from China fell 2.9 percent to 2.07 billion SME. Shipments from Bangladesh, which had been increasing in recent months, dropped 12.2 percent to 136 million SME in August, while Canadian imports declined 24 percent to 112 million SME and shipments from Mexico were down 14.5 percent to 228 million SME.

“It’s going to be an awful holiday,” said Charles McMillion, president and chief economist, MBG Information Services. “Production numbers for U.S. producers are weak and import figures are weak. Both of them reflect the weakness of demand.”

Given that importers and apparel retailers often place orders months in advance, August import levels don’t reflect decisions to sharply cut back new orders in the wake of the most recent financial upheaval.

“My fear is these trends will accelerate,” he said. “I could even say my expectation is that these trends will accelerate.”

The overall trade deficit narrowed to $59.1 billion in August from a revised $61.3 billion in July.

“With global credit markets now frozen and stock markets crashing, the U.S. can no longer look to foreign trade to prevent what is shaping up as a severe recession,” Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist, Global Insight.

The top five apparel suppliers to the U.S. in August were China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Honduras and Mexico. China also topped the list of the biggest textile suppliers, followed by Pakistan, India, Mexico and South Korea.

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