WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile imports to the U.S. rose 3.7 percent in January on a year-over-year basis, a report on Thursday from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel showed.

Combined apparel and textile shipments to the U.S. increased to 4.6 billion square meter equivalents in the month compared with January 2012, with apparel imports increasing 4.2 percent to 2.1 billion SME and textile shipments increasing 3.3 percent to 2.5 billion SME.

Apparel and textile imports rose 6.7 percent in December.

Apparel and textile shipments from China, the top supplier to the U.S., edged up 0.7 percent to 2.1 billion SME compared with January 2012. Vietnam had the largest increase in combined shipments, up 22.7 percent to 315 million SME, followed by Bangladesh’s 11 percent gain to 181 million SME and Indonesia’s increase of 9.9 percent to 169 million SME.

“Vietnam and Indonesia were two countries expected to pick up business as sourcing starts to migrate out of China,” said Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation.

“My guess is that China is going to continue to be a pretty significant supplier of apparel to the U.S. market for the foreseeable future. The Chinese have a very good reputation for needle skills for more fashion-oriented products, which are higher-end goods that sell at a higher price point. What we might be seeing is the more commodity apparel moving out of China.”

Bangladesh has also long been considered a sourcing alternative to China and, while imports from the country were up in January, Autor said companies are very concerned about continuing to source there because of the fire-safety problems in the country’s garment industry, which have led to fires and fatalities in recent months.

“We’ve had the whole issue over fire safety, and I think that has made companies really cautious about Bangladesh,” Autor said. “I think folks are a little nervous about fire-safety issues, how this will play out and what the industry’s response is going to be to try and fix that problem.”

Honduras posted the largest drop in combined shipments of 9.3 percent to 57 million SME, followed by a 3.5 percent decline in combined shipments from Canada to 97 million SME.

Looking at apparel, rather than combined imports in the month, Indonesia, the fourth-largest supplier to the U.S., had the largest increase of 13.4 percent to 130 million SME. This was followed by Vietnam’s 9 percent gain to 214 million SME and Bangladesh’s increase of 7 percent to 162 million SME.

Meanwhile, imports from the two Central American countries in the top 10 among apparel suppliers fell in January. Apparel imports from El Salvador fell 14 percent to 44 million SME while apparel imports from Honduras fell 11.8 percent to 55 million SME.

The nation’s overall trade deficit widened to $44.4 billion in January from $38.1 billion in December as exports fell and imports rose.


“Imports rebounded $4.1 billion after their sharp December plunge,” said Gregory Daco, senior principal economist at IHS Global Insight, adding that oil imports accounted for 90 percent of the import rebound. “Nonpetroleum industrial supplies and capital goods rose while consumer and automotive goods declined. Computers, telecommunications equipment and semiconductors had a good month while aircraft and cell phone imports contracted sharply.”

Daco said exports “cooled” in January, primarily due to a 6 percent drop in industrial supplies exports, after posting two consecutive monthly increases. On the positive side, exports of food, consumer, capital equipment and automotive goods rose.