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Apparel Imports Decline in August

Overall trade deficit widens on weak foreign demand.

WASHINGTON — Retailers and brands trimmed inventories in August, as weak demand drove a year-over-year decline in imports from eight of the top 10 countries supplying apparel and textiles to the U.S., according to a report from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel on Thursday.

Combined apparel and textile imports to the U.S. fell 2.1 percent to 5 billion square meter equivalents in August compared to a year earlier, with apparel imports down 4.4 percent to 2.3 billion SME and textile shipments declining 0.5 percent to 2.7 billion SME.

“It is a reflection of what is happening in 2012 as we are heading into the holiday selling season…that business continues to be tough,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “Companies do not want to have too much inventory. They don’t want to overcommit until they see what the customer is buying.”

Hughes said apparel imports for the first eight months of the year, which fell 3.1 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, were down for all but two of the top 20 suppliers — China, which was virtually flat, and Vietnam, which was up 5.7 percent.

“It is more likely that some production may have shifted into Vietnam from other suppliers since China is remaining stable,” Hughes said.

Apparel and textile shipments from China, the top supplier to the U.S., fell 2.8 percent to 2.5 billion SME in August compared with August 2011. Apparel shipments declined 3.6 percent to 1.1 billion SME, while textile shipments fell 2.2 percent to 1.4 billion SME.

Combined shipments from Vietnam were down 7.1 percent to 267 million SME in August compared with a year earlier, primarily due to a significant drop in textile shipments, which declined 24.5 percent to 77 million SME. Apparel imports, of which Vietnam is the second largest supplier, rose 2.6 percent to 190 million SME.

The top eight countries posting a decline in combined textile and apparel shipments were China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Canada and Honduras.

The only two countries with an uptick in imports in August were India, with a 4.2 percent increase to 302 million SME, and Bangladesh with an increase of 5.9 percent to 171 million SME.

The overall trade deficit in August widened to $44.2 billion from $42.5 billion in July, as demand for exports weakened.

“The (yet unofficial) Eurozone recession and Chinese slowdown have clearly reduced the global appetite for U.S. goods and services,” said Gregory Daco, principal U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.

Daco said weaker demand for apparel “weighed on consumer goods imports” as imports as a whole fell 0.1 percent for the month despite a rise in services imports related to the Summer Olympics in London.