Industry Imports Up in July

The overall trade deficit widened in the month.

WASHINGTON — Bangladesh and Vietnam posted the largest increases in apparel and textile imports to the U.S. in July compared with a year earlier, driving the increase in combined shipments for the month, a report from the U.S. Commerce Department showed Wednesday.

Combined shipments from the world to the U.S. rose 4.8 percent to 5.2 billion square meter equivalents in July from a year earlier. Apparel imports were up 6.5 percent to 2.4 billion SME, while textile imports gained 3.4 percent to 2.8 billion SME, according to Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

Apparel and textile shipments from Bangladesh, the sixth largest supplier to the U.S., increased 16.6 percent to 187 million SME, while combined shipments from Vietnam, the third largest supplier to the U.S., rose 15 percent to 319 million SME.

Imports from China, the top supplier of textiles and apparel to the U.S., rose 6 percent to 2.6 billion SME year-to-year.

“Even if China is up just a little, it still amounts to a lot [of volume] since they are the biggest supplier and still have a 41 percent year-ending share [of the U.S. apparel import market],” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “Vietnam and Bangladesh have had strong double-digit increases for [the month] and the year to date and are continuing to attract more business compared with other suppliers.”

Hughes said the “good news” about apparel imports from Bangladesh is that orders have not been pulled out of the country, despite two major apparel factory tragedies which have claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people.

“There are some folks in the industry that suspect we may still see a decline further out in 2014,” Hughes said. “But in many ways, the new commitment by companies supporting the [fire and building safety initiatives] and the improvement in working conditions in Bangladesh is helping keep business there and that is a part of the trend that we are seeing.”

Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said July import data would have been the first month to be impacted by a decline in apparel imports from Bangladesh were there to be a pullback in orders.

“It shows that all of the big players, including H&M, to Wal-Mart, VF Corp., Target, Gap and Inditex, have made a firm commitment to stay there, at least in the near term,” Herman said.

He also noted that new investment going into Vietnam, primarily in anticipation of an Asia-Pacific trade agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 countries, has helped the apparel industry expand there.

“There has been a lot of announcement of new investments in Vietnam and every time the capacity is near full, they add new capacity online,” Herman said.

The overall U.S. trade deficit widened to $39.1 billion in July from $34.5 billion in June, primarily due to a 7.7 percent increase in oil imports.