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Textile, Apparel Imports Fall

Decline for fifth straight month.

WASHINGTON — Under continued pressure from declining consumer demand and a stalled economy, apparel and textile imports dropped in July for the fifth consecutive month.

This story first appeared in the September 12, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The volume of apparel and textile imports to the U.S. declined 4.4 percent in July compared with a year earlier, to 4.58 billion square meter equivalents, after sliding 10 percent in June, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Year-over-year import levels fell 6 percent in May, 0.6 percent in April and 11.4 percent in March.

The overall U.S. trade deficit widened sharply to $62.2 billion in July from $58.8 billion in June, led by continued imports of oil and a surge in shipments of technology sector products.

“The slowdown in U.S. demand is being felt by U.S. producers and importers, as well,” said Charles McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services. “I expect that’s going to continue. Margins are being really squeezed at every point along the supply chain, both domestically and internationally, because of the volatile exchange rate and slowing demand both in the U.S. and very rapidly abroad. It is likely to be, and in fact was, a pretty rotten back-to-school season and the holiday seasons ahead are not looking very good either.”

Despite the start of the b-t-s season in July, there was no import bounce, which does not bode well for the remainder of the year, economists said.

“In general, like most other consumer categories, the volume of imports is going to be pressured by the weakness of domestic spending in the general consumer area, which would include spending on apparel,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at Global Insight. “To me, it says the retailers are being very cautious. They are not expecting strength and they’re worried about if they bring in too many imports being stuck with stuff they can’t sell.”

July imports of textiles and apparel to the U.S. from China fell 4.8 percent in the month to 1.96 billion SME. In June, shipments of apparel and textiles from China fell 11.8 percent, the largest drop in more than seven years, according to Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel.

The most significant increases in combined apparel and textile imports to the U.S. were from Bangladesh, Vietnam and Honduras. Bangladesh increased shipments to the U.S. by 18.5 percent to 134 million SME, Vietnam’s imports were up 17 percent to 166 million SME and Honduras increased imports 13.2 percent to 130 million SME.

Imports from Canada plummeted 28.4 percent to 120 million SME in July, and Pakistan’s shipments to the U.S. fell 9.7 percent to 246 million SME. Imports from Mexico were down 6.7 percent to 247 million SME.

China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Honduras and Mexico continued to be the top five sources of apparel to the U.S. China also topped the list of top textile suppliers, followed by Pakistan, India, Mexico and South Korea.