By  on June 11, 2008

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economic slowdown continues to effect apparel and textile imports.

The combined volume of apparel and textile imports to the U.S. fell 0.6 percent in April from a year earlier, after plummeting 11.4 percent in March, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. April represented the third monthly drop in combined shipments to the U.S. this year.

The U.S. imported 4 billion square meter equivalents of textiles and apparel in April, compared with 3.67 billion SME in March and more than 4 billion SME in April 2007.

"The U.S. market is really weak, as every retailer will tell you," said Charles McMillion, president and chief economist, MBG Information Services. "The combination of a falling currency and a weak market is leading to weak textile and apparel imports."

However, combined textile and apparel imports from China increased 6.6 percent to 1.5 billion SME compared with April 2007. Vietnam's textile and apparel shipments rose 15 percent to 130 million SME, while industry imports from Honduras spiked 18.7 percent to 108 million SME.

Most of the positive numbers were driven by apparel imports. Textile imports decreased across the board for most major suppliers, with Canada, South Korea and Pakistan accounting for the biggest declines compared with last year.

China was one of only two countries in the top 10 list to post an increase in textile imports to the U.S. The country's shipments increased to 1.1 billion SME in April, a 7.2 percent rise compared with last year.

Overall apparel shipments to the U.S. increased 2.5 percent to 1.65 billion SME in April versus last year, and Honduras, Vietnam, Indonesia and El Salvador accounted for the largest increases. The largest suppliers by volume in April were China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Honduras and Mexico.

Apparel imports from China increased 5.4 percent in April from a year earlier to 454 million SME, while shipments from Vietnam increased 16.3 percent to 110 million SME and imports from Honduras surged 19.3 percent to 107 million SME.

The biggest declines among the top suppliers to the U.S. of combined textile and apparel imports were from Canada, South Korea, Pakistan and Indonesia. The top five suppliers of textiles and apparel to the U.S. were China, Pakistan, Mexico, India and South Korea.Overall, the U.S. trade deficit ballooned in April, growing 7.8 percent to $60.9 billion from $56.5 billion in March and exceeding consensus forecasts. Economists said the gap was driven primarily by increased prices and volumes of oil imports.

"The trade deficit heightens the risk of recession and surging unemployment," said Peter Morici, professor at the University of Maryland School of Business.

Money spent on rising fuel prices and foreign manufactured goods is money that won't be spent on U.S. made products, Morici said.

There was some good news, said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist, Global Insight, as exports rebounded after declining in March.

"Although imports also bounced higher in April, export volume growth far outpaced import volume growth, indicating that trade will be a major plus for GDP growth in the second quarter," Gault said.

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