WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile imports to the U.S. rose 6.7 percent in December on a year-over-year basis, a report on Friday from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel showed.
Combined apparel and textile shipments to the U.S. increased to 4 billion square-meter equivalents in the month compared with December 2011, with apparel imports rising 13.2 percent to 1.8 billion SME and textile shipments increasing 2 percent to 2.2 billion SME.
“The potential port strike on the East Coast in December definitely encouraged some companies to ship their [spring] products early,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, adding that was particularly likely with goods from Central America, where some countries posted double-digit increases, since most of that trade comes through those ports.
But the double-digit import increases from Vietnam and China were likely due to an increase in consumer demand rather than a port strike threat, she said.
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Importers made up a lot of lost ground in December. Apparel and textile shipments from China, the top supplier to the U.S., rose 4.5 percent to 1.8 billion SME compared with December 2011. Honduras had the largest increase in combined shipments, up 17.8 percent to 95 million SME, followed by Vietnam’s 16.1 percent gain to 274 million SME, Bangladesh’s increase of 14.8 percent to 110 million SME and Indonesia’s gain of 11.2 percent to 137 million SME.
Canada posted the largest drop in combined shipments of 14.4 percent to 73 million SME, followed by Pakistan’s 7 percent drop to 164 million SME and South Korea’s 5.5 percent decline to 97 million SME.
Looking at apparel imports in the month, Vietnam, the second largest apparel supplier to the U.S., had a the largest and most dramatic increase of 28 percent to 174 million SME. This was followed by El Salvador’s 18.5 percent gain to 68 million SME, Honduras’ 17.4 percent bump to 92 million SME and Bangladesh’s 13.4 percent gain to 99 million SME. China had a 11.6 percent increase in apparel imports to 729 million SME.
“The increase in December imports could be a sign that companies had depleted their inventories down to where they feel it is OK to increase their orders,” said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association.
For all of 2012, combined apparel and textile shipments were up 0.6 percent to 54 billion SME, with apparel imports falling 0.7 percent to 23.7 billion SME and textile shipments rising 1.8 percent to 30.3 billion SME.
The nation’s overall trade deficit narrowed to $38.5 billion in December from $48.6 billion in November.
“What came as a surprise was the magnitude of the contraction,” said Gregory Daco, senior principal economist at IHS Global Insight.
Daco said the trade gap narrowed 21 percent, bringing it to the lowest trade deficit since January 2010. Imports plunged $6.1 billion in December, driven primarily by oil shipments, which shrank 11 percent.
“Consumer goods, meanwhile, managed a small gain despite a 15 percent decline in pharmaceuticals, a volatile category,” Daco said. “Digging deeper, the consumer goods picture excluding pharmaceuticals was positive with a gain of 3.2 percent, owing in large part to a 14 percent jump in apparel imports.”