WASHINGTON — The China factor continues to dominate textile and apparel imports.
The country was the driving force behind a 21.8 percent rise in sector imports in August, the Commerce Department’s trade figures revealed Friday.
Overall, textile and apparel imports rose to 3.71 billion square meters equivalent in August. Textile imports alone rose a whopping 32.9 percent to 1.93 billion SME, while apparel imports rose 11.6 percent to 1.77 billion SME.
For the year-to-date, total imports of apparel and textiles increased 12.8 percent, with textiles posting a 23.1 percent increase and apparel posting a 2.1 percent gain against the year-ago period.
China has dominated imports for several months. Textile and apparel imports from China rose 144 percent in August and increased 101.6 percent for the first eight months of the year.
“This is the largest increase I’ve seen for a country that was already a large supplier,” said Donald Foote, director of the agreements division for Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel. “Before the end of the year, at the current rate of growth, China will become our number one supplier.”
China covers more than one-half of the year-to-date increase in apparel and textiles, while four other countries — South Korea, Pakistan, India and Vietnam — accounted for another 34 percent of the growth.
Eight categories where quotas were lifted at the beginning of the year boosted imports, according to Foote. They include man-made fiber luggage and handbags, textile bags and tents, curtains, blankets, quilts and comforters, cotton towels and table linens, nonwoven, knit and specialty fabrics and man-made fiber textured-filament yarn.
“China had low quotas that held them back in their business,” said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “They weren’t a major supplier [in some of the categories] because they had low quotas for their capacity.”
The domestic textile industry has a much different perspective.
The surges in August are prompting Charles Bremer, vice president of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, to write another letter to the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements early this week reiterating the need to reimpose quotas on five categories.
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ATMI recently asked Commerce officials for import quota on Chinese bras, knit fabric, gloves, nightwear and luggage, all of which had quotas either wholly or partially removed on Jan. 1 as part of the third stage of global quota phaseout. CITA is still reviewing the request, which was filed under a special deal China made to secure its World Trade Organization membership.
“If you need a glimpse of the future, you have it right here,” Bremer said, referring to China’s year-to-date import growth. “This is the most tightly controlled country with whom we trade textiles and apparel and they doubled their growth.”
Bremer pointed to China’s import growth in man-made fiber luggage and knit fabrics. China now accounts for 62 percent of the U.S. market in the category, whereas before the quota phaseout, the country controlled 14 percent of the U.S. market in this product.
While China accounts for just 4.1 percent of the knit fabric market in the U.S., imports increased substantially for the year-to-date, according to Bremer. Hughes said it is still “very premature” to talk about a textile safeguard action against China until CITA provides guidelines, criteria and a process.
“There needs to be transparency and a public hearing if CITA makes the decision to move forward,” Hughes said.
In related news, India has made a formal request to CITA to borrow from a low-fill quota category for its cotton knit shirts and blouses, which is close to being embargoed. The quota limit on this category stands at a little more than 5 million dozen for the year.
In September, CITA allowed Bangladesh, which exceeded its 3.8 million dozen quota limit on cotton trousers, to borrow from next year’s quota with a penalty of three times the amount it used.