WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel imports to the U.S. fell 8.4 percent to 4.7 billion square meter equivalents in June from a year earlier, as many of the top 10 supplier countries — China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Korea and Pakistan — posted significant declines, the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel said Thursday.
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Sourcing has continued to shift away from China in the past year, as rising labor and transportation costs have driven business to other Asian competitors such as Vietnam, which, along with Mexico, were the only top 10 supplier countries where imports to the U.S. rose in June.
Total apparel shipments fell 7 percent to 2 billion SME compared with June 2010, while textile shipments dropped 9.4 percent to 2.6 billion SME.
“Retailers might have already seen a weakness in consumer spending and, as a result, they decided to order less apparel,” said Gregory Daco, principal U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “The fact that there were less apparel imports in June would mean there were less ordered in April.”
The overall trade deficit widened to $53.1 billion from $50.8 billion in May, marking the largest trade deficit since October 2008, according to Daco.
Combined apparel and textile shipments from China fell 10 percent to 2.3 billion SME, as apparel imports fell 9.8 percent to 864 million SME, while textile imports fell 10.2 percent to 1.4 billion SME.
Among the top 10 suppliers, combined apparel and textile shipments from Pakistan fell 17 percent to 228 million SME, imports from Bangladesh dropped 14.7 percent to 138 million SME, goods coming from South Korea fell 14.3 percent to 109 million SME and imports from Indonesia fell 8.5 percent to 134 million SME.
Combined shipments from Vietnam, the number-two apparel supplier to the U.S., which has been gaining share on China, rose 5.4 percent to 266 million SME, as apparel imports edged up 0.2 percent to 163 million SME and textile shipments rose 14.6 percent to 103 million SME.
“We seem to be on a bit of a roller-coaster ride this year because imports were strong in January, they fell in March and now they are falling in June,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, noting that imports are typically up in June due to back-to-school business. “Maybe what we are seeing is companies pushing back deliveries so they can try to be even more conscious of what the consumer really wants.”
Observers have also said there has been some shift back to domestic textile manufacturing, which could have put a small dent in imports.
Hughes noted that it was surprising there was a 2.8 percent decline to 4.1 billion SME in apparel imports from China in the first six months of the year.
“Obviously, that has a big impact,” she added. “That is larger than a lot of suppliers’ total trade. What we are seeing is what people have been talking about for more than a year now about shifts out of China due to rising prices there.”