Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON--U.S. textile and apparel imports surged 20.1 percent in March from a year ago, marking the seventh consecutive month these imports have increased at double-digit levels.
Though Mexican exports, as expected, contributed significantly to these high figures, March was the first month in about two years that almost all major apparel and textile-producing nations posted double-digit hikes in their U.S. shipments.
For the month, textile and apparel imports combined totaled 1.67 billion square meters equivalent, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. For the first quarter of this year, these imports were up 18.4 percent to just under 5.2 billion SME, and for the year ending in March they were 9.9 percent higher, at 19.87 billion SME.
Apparel imports increased 17.6 percent in March to 812.1 million SME and were up 13.1 percent to 2.54 billion SME in the first quarter. For the year ending in March, apparel imports rose 8.2 percent from a year ago, to 9.95 billion SME.
Textile imports jumped 22.5 percent in March to 858.3 million SME, and for the first quarter they shot up 23.9 percent to 2.66 billion SME. Textile imports rose 11.7 percent for the year to 9.92 billion SME.
Discussing the month's shipments, Donald Foote, director of the agreements division of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel, noted, "Except for Hong Kong, whose exports here fell more than 22 percent in March, every major [textile/apparel supplying] country had double-digit increases in their exports here."
The Commerce official said that while overall imports were up very strongly, it would be incorrect to say they were rising uncontrolled, explaining most products from the major shippers are under import quota. Even through mid-May, he noted, there were no products from any supplier that were anywhere near embargo levels when a quota is almost filled.
Foote said 75 percent of the total textile-apparel import increase during the first quarter was due to sharply higher shipments in a handful of product categories by all of the U.S.'s top suppliers, except Hong Kong.
Eight textile products, made up of various knit and nonknit fabrics and print cloths, accounted for 74 percent of the total import increase in textiles. Three major product groups accounted for 76 percent of all increases in apparel imports during the first quarter. They were knit shirts of cotton or man-made fibers for men and women, pants of cotton or man-made fibers for men and women, and underwear.
Mexico, the first-ranked supplier, increased shipments here nearly 40 percent to 613 million SME in the first quarter versus the same year-ago period.
China, the U.S. second-ranking supplier overall, increased shipments here 61.4 percent to 496 million SME during the first quarter.
Of leading foreign suppliers, Hong Kong was the only one whose shipments here declined during the first quarter--down 18.7 percent to 173 million SME. Thanks to a plunge in textile exports, Hong Kong moved from the U.S.'s fifth-leading overall supplier a year ago to number 10 in March.

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