China Import Surge Continues

China racked up more of the U.S. import market with a 45.5 percent increase in apparel and textiles in September.

WASHINGTON — China continued its charge in September, posting a 45.5 percent rise in apparel and textile imports over a year earlier. However, a trade deal inked this week and scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 will slow further advances until 2009.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel, China’s imports of 1.6 billion square meter equivalents, worth $2.2 billion, further solidifies its position as the number-one source of apparel and textiles. It has been four years since the country saw a month when shipments in the categories to the U.S. fell from the prior year.

The new apparel and textile deal brings more certainty to the sourcing scene and shields U.S. producers by limiting imports of 34 types of Chinese-made goods, from cotton trousers to knit fabric. In all, more than $6 billion in goods will be restrained by the accord.

China’s dramatic rise was prompted by the phaseout of a broader system of quotas in January.

Total apparel and textile imports from the world rose 9.6 percent to 4.6 billion SME, worth $8.4 billion, indicating China’s growth came at the expense of other countries.

Stephen Lamar, senior vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said vendors will appreciate the certainty the trade deal with China provides.

“We now may be entering a period where it’s more or less a static relationship,” said Lamar. “At least for a couple of years there will be terms of trade that won’t change, that’s the presumption.”

China wasn’t the only gainer in September, though. Also picking up business were Pakistan, with imports swelling 10.9 percent to 277.7 million SME, worth $269.9 million, and India, with imports swelling 14.4 percent to 187.6 million SME, worth $369.5 million.

The top two countries losing business in September were Canada, down 12.9 percent to 252 million SME, worth $249.2 million, and Mexico, dipping 7.4 percent to 324.6 million SME, worth $586.4 million.

It isn’t only in the fashion realm where China is flexing its manufacturing muscles.

The U.S. trade deficit with the world totaled $66.1 billion in September, a record $20.1 billion of that with China, according to the Commerce Department. Charles McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services, said the deficit is one of the most pressing economic concerns for the U.S.

This story first appeared in the November 11, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It clearly is unsustainable,” he said. “We can’t continue to consume this much more than we produce indefinitely and so it will require either consuming much less, which means deep recession, or somehow producing much more.”

John Mothersole, senior economist at Global Insight, agreed that trade deficits and the capital the U.S. needs to borrow to sustain them can cause instability, but added, “The development of China is to the long-term benefit of the global economy.”