WASHINGTON — Vietnam and Cambodia posted the largest increases in apparel and textile imports to the U.S. in May compared with a year earlier, driving the overall gain in combined shipments for the month.
Combined shipments from the world to the U.S. rose 3.2 percent to 4.8 billion square meter equivalents in May compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports were up 7.6 percent to 1.9 billion SME from a year earlier, while textile imports edged up 0.4 percent to 2.6 billion SME for the period.
Combined shipments from Vietnam, the third-largest supplier to the U.S., soared 20 percent in May to 308 million SME, while imports from Cambodia, the 10th-largest supplier to the U.S., rose 14.6 percent to 78 million SME. Vietnam is the second-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., behind China, and shipments of apparel from Vietnam rose 16.7 percent to 191 million SME.
Imports from China, the top supplier of textiles and apparel to the U.S., increased 4 percent to 2.2 billion SME in May compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports from China rose 7.3 percent to 751 million SME.
“During the month of May, we are seeing that the largest growth is in Asia, with Vietnam and Cambodia being the two major suppliers that are up in double digits,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “But China was up too, so I don’t think Vietnam and Cambodia are taking share from China. When new business is placed, as [overall] imports are growing, companies are going to Vietnam and Cambodia more than some other supplier countries.”
Hughes said consumer demand is growing in the U.S., which has led to an overall increase in apparel imports.
Apparel imports from Bangladesh continued to grow in May compared with a year earlier, despite the controversy over fire and building safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry. Apparel imports from the country, the third-largest supplier of apparel to the U.S., rose 6.3 percent to 134 million SME in the month. Several industry officials have said they expect to see companies shift business out of Bangladesh in the wake of the recent tragedies, but the U.S. government’s import data lags by two months, so it could take time for any potential downturn in imports from Bangladesh to be reflected.
Hughes said, “If Bangladesh is going to lose some orders based on the concerns about building and workers safety, we are not seeing that yet. One might argue that we may not see sharp declines because the industry is committed to work with the Bangladesh government to remediate and improve conditions in Bangladesh.”
The overall trade deficit widened to $45 billion in May from $40.1 billion in April.
“Imports continued their comeback from a March slump, rising 1.9 percent on gains across all major subcategories,” said Gregory Daco, senior principal economist at IHS Global Insight. “A surge in imported petroleum volumes was responsible for about a third of the imports bounce, but these numbers are highly volatile and should fall back in the coming months. Automotive, consumer goods and capital goods imports also had a strong month indicating the ongoing resilience of private sector activity.”