WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel imports scored another record in July as shipments surged 8.3 percent from year-ago levels, with China again leading all other countries in grabbing more U.S. market share from its foreign competitors, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

China accounted for 96 percent of the textile and apparel import growth during July, with Vietnam posting the second-largest growth of 22.5 percent, followed by the rest of the world with a collective 1.8 percent increase, according to Donald Foote, director of the agreements division at Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel.

July is typically a high-volume month for textile and apparel imports, which this year saw shipments climb to 4 billion square meters. The last record set was July 2002, when 3.72 billion square meters of textiles and apparel were imported.

Separately, 1.9 billion SME of apparel was imported in July, an 8.8 percent year-over-year increase, as 2.1 billion SME was imported, an almost 8 percent gain.

The growth in Chinese textile and apparel imports continues to be largely concentrated in five product categories no longer restricted by quotas and, except for infants’ clothing, are all nonapparel products.

For the first seven months of this year, trade in the five nonquota products, which also include: man-made fiber home furnishings, luggage and handbags; tents; textile bags, and cotton luggage, accounted for 93 percent of China’s total import growth.

However, there are Chinese apparel categories no longer under quota that are still posting sizeable increases, although they may not be contributing as much to the overall growth in imports.

These apparel categories include bras, with year-to-date shipments up 89 percent, and robes, up 140 percent. Bras and robes are two apparel categories for which the U.S. textile industry has asked the Bush administration to impose temporary quotas to protect domestic suppliers.

Other Chinese apparel categories posting large year-to-date increases include woven shirts of ramie and silk blends, up 162 percent; hosiery, up 467 percent, and hats, up 38 percent.

The domestic industry has also asked quotas be imposed on Chinese knit fabric, which as of July posted a year-to-date increase of 47 percent, but account for 6.8 percent of all foreign imports of knitted fabric.Charles Bremer, director of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, called Chinese imports a “charging elephant…these are huge numbers.”

However, Natalie Hanson, vice president of the textile and apparel data at consulting firm IDS, said China is simply making “the most of its quota-free status” in several categories. All quotas will be eliminated by Jan. 1, 2005, for all World Trade Organization members. However, WTO members could still slap temporary limits on Chinese imports if a country decides a particular category is causing market disruption among domestic producers.

Of crucial concern to importers are shipments from Vietnam, whose quotas are filling fast, threatening a halt of all shipments in coming weeks until the end of the year. Year-to-date Vietnamese apparel shipments surged 380 percent.

Hanson also noted that Mexico, despite its 5.6 percent year-to-date decline in apparel imports, still is the number-one foreign apparel supplier with 11.2 percent of the import market. China, with a 61.3 increase in apparel imports for the period, is inching up in its number-two spot with 10.9 percent of the market. Honduras is the third-largest foreign apparel supplier to the U.S. with a 6.3 percent market share and year-to-date has seen its shipments grow by 14 percent.

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