NAFTA'S BIG FIRST MONTH: One month does not a trend make, but in the first month after the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, Mexico's textile and apparel exports to the U.S. grew faster than any other nation's.

Data released in March by the Commerce Department showed these exports rose a whopping 30.2 percent in January to 52.8 million square meters equivalent, making Mexico's the U.S.'s sixth largest supplier of textiles and clothing. The second-highest percent gainer during January was Canada, the U.S.'s fourth-largest supplier -- up 26.8 percent. Canada has been a U.S. free-trade partner since 1989.

Much of the growth in Mexico's exports was fueled by a sharp increase in three product categories. Shipments of man-made fiber underwear, category 652, soared 183 percent, to almost 2.8 million SME in January, from just 980,290 SME in January 1993. Mexican exports of man-made fiber blankets and curtains, category 666, jumped 117 percent, to 3.3 million SME, from 1.5 million SME a year earlier.

Shipments to the U.S. by Mexican manufacturers of nylon filament and polyester yarns, category 606, bounded upwards by 113 percent, to 6.6 million SME in January, from almost 3.1 million SME a year ago.

Other leading Mexican export gainers during January included: men's and boys' cotton trousers, category 347, up 43.8 percent to 4 million SME; women's and girl's man-made fiber knit blouses, category 636, up 503.5 percent to 911,078 SME; men's and boys' cotton knit shirts, up 231 percent to 987,654 SME, and women's and girl's man-made fiber knit blouses, category 639, up 135.3 percent to 1.2 million SME.

Trade analysts have said at least three quarters of such data are needed at a minimum before tentative conclusions can be made about NAFTA's affect on textile and apparel trade with the U.S.

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