By  on August 6, 2014

WASHINGTON — Vietnam posted the largest increase in apparel imports to the U.S. in June — up 17.4 percent to 228 million square meter equivalents — among the top 10 apparel suppliers, followed by India and China, the Commerce Department’s trade report showed Wednesday.

Apparel imports from Bangladesh, beset by problems and efforts to improve safety in its garment sector, fell 3.2 percent to 131 million SME in June compared with June 2013, while apparel imports from Cambodia, impacted by months of strikes over wages, rebounded and rose 0.7 percent to 76 million SME.

The overall trade deficit narrowed in June to $41.5 billion from $44.7 billion in May.

“One thing we’ve been talking about for a while is that Vietnam is a very strong competitor and continues to grow,” said Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “I don’t know if that is organic growth or the expectation about TPP,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 countries, “that may come online in the next couple of years, but it is probably a combination of those factors.”

Lamar also said the West Coast port labor contract talks likely contributed to the big increase in apparel imports from Vietnam, as well as from all apparel imports to the U.S., which rose 8.4 percent to 2.1 billion SME in June compared with a year ago.

“It may be a reflection of people bringing in product in anticipation of the port and labor issues on the West Coast,” Lamar said.

The two sides — the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association — are still in discussions and have not reached agreement on a new contract that expired July 1.

China, the top apparel supplier to the U.S., had an 11.2 percent increase in imports to 936 million SME, while India posted a 12.8 percent gain to 80 million SME in the month from June 2013.

“The big news is that China was up 11 percent for the month,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “When you are the supplier with a 43 percent [U.S. apparel import market share for the month] and you are growing by double digits, you are definitely seeing a huge bump there. There are a lot of conversations about companies shifting out of China because their prices are going up, but clearly that didn’t affect their imports in June.”

Hughes said India’s rise in apparel shipments signals a new commitment from some companies to source there.

“There has been a lot of talk about a resurgence of imports from India and that the new government in India was more business-friendly, and that we were going to see a rebound because India is home to many terrific textile and fabric producers,” Hughes said. “We are definitely starting to see that in the data.”

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