WASHINGTON — The West Coast port lockout in early October slowed apparel and textile import growth for the month, but not enough to keep it from registering gains in the double digits.

Textile and apparel import growth decelerated for the first time since double-digit growth returned in April, but still posted a strong 11 percent gain in October against year-ago levels, according to the Commerce Department’s latest trade numbers.

Even China, which has dominated import growth since the beginning of the year, experienced a softness in growth, though a 117 percent increase in imports for the month is still one of the largest on record for a major supplier.

Charles Bremer, vice president of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, claimed that imports could have easily been up by an additional 20 percent in October without the West Coast port shutdown. Apparel and textile imports rose 30 percent in September against September 2001.

Even with the falloff, China’s year-to-date growth was 110 percent, by far the largest in recent history for a major supplier, according to Donald Foote, director of the agreements division at Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

Overall, textile and apparel imports grew to 3.35 billion square meters equivalent in October from 3.02 billion SME in October 2001. Textile imports rose 14 percent to 1.77 billion SME against a year ago, while apparel imports increased 7.8 percent to 1.58 billion SME against October 2001.

Foote said growth rates slowed across the board with three major exceptions, the Caribbean Basin countries, Brazil and Vietnam. Apparel and textile imports from Vietnam, which is still a small supplier to the U.S., soared in October compared with October 2001, growing from 3 million SME to 40 million SME, according to Foote.

The U.S. has requested consultations with Vietnam to begin negotiations on a bilateral textile agreement on Jan. 6. Vietnam has not yet responded.

Mexico is still the number one supplier of apparel and textiles to the U.S. with 0.9 percent year-to-date growth, but China is nipping at its heels.

Commerce officials are currently reviewing a request by the ATMI for import quotas 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 global quota phaseout. The ATMI request was filed under a special deal China made to secure its World Trade Organization membership.Commerce will make a recommendation to the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, which is also chaired by officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, as well as the State, Treasury and Labor departments. CITA will then vote on the recommendation and issue a decision on whether to place quotas on any apparel or textile categories from China.

It is a significant decision that both importers, who oppose a safeguard action against China, and the domestic industry, are watching closely. But it is still unclear whether CITA will issue a decision before the end of the year.

Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, argued that China is taking away production from other foreign suppliers and not the domestic market.

"We also have real problems as to whether or not ATMI has any standing to request that quotas be placed on apparel products when their member companies are not involved in the manufacture of apparel," said Hughes, pointing to bras, gloves and nightwear, which are on ATMI’s list.

ATMI’s Bremer countered that the definition of who has standing was broadened in the Trade Act of 2002, which extends standing to the secondary market.

"We provide the raw materials for the apparel and that gives us standing," Bremer said.

He also noted ATMI has made requests and received action on import-impacted apparel products from CITA for 20 years.

"Textile ceo’s have been grievously hurt by imports from China," Bremer said. "If Chapter 11 cases and layoffs aren’t damaging enough, I don’t know what is."

Meanwhile, for the first 10 months of the year, textile import growth was concentrated in seven categories, according to Foote. Almost half of the textile import growth was in three categories, including man-made fiber furnishings such as blankets, comforters and curtains; other cotton manufactures, which includes towels, kitchen linens and tablecloths, and man-made fiber luggage.

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