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Apparel Imports Suffer Biggest Drop In 5 Years

<CS:BOLD>WASHINGTON -- With the economy entrenched in recession, apparel imports dropped 6.8 percent in November against a year ago, marking the fourth consecutive monthly decline in 2001 and the largest one-month decline in five years, the Commerce...

WASHINGTON — With the economy entrenched in recession, apparel imports dropped 6.8 percent in November against a year ago, marking the fourth consecutive monthly decline in 2001 and the largest one-month decline in five years, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

Total textile and apparel imports decreased 3.2 percent in November compared with the same month a year ago. Textile imports declined 0.1 percent in the month. The decrease in November contributed to a year-to-date decrease of 0.1 percent, to 30.5 billion square meter equivalents.

“We are still in a recession and apparel [imports have] been hit harder than textiles,” said Donald Foote, director of the agreements division of Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel. “Almost all of the apparel import decreases are coming from the Western Hemisphere,” particularly Mexico and the Caribbean Basin countries.

Charles W. McMillion, chief economist at MBG Information Services, expects imports to continue weakening in line with demand.

“I don’t expect strong inventory building, but inventory reductions have run their course,” said McMillion. “When we get some demand or the expectation of demand, we will start seeing a buildup.”

He noted that he doesn’t expect that to happen any time soon.

“I don’t expect demand to be strong, so imports and domestic production will continue to stagnate or decline a little,” McMillion said.

Six countries accounted for 88 percent of the decrease in November, with Mexico, the largest supplier to the U.S., dropping 46 percent and the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Honduras accounting for 21 percent of the decline as a group, Foote said. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka combined to account for another 21 percent of the decrease.

For the year-to-date, imports from Mexico plunged 9.5 percent, while Canada, the number two supplier, posted a 2.6 percent increase and China slowed its declines, posting a 1.5 percent decrease, while Pakistan surged ahead by 9.8 percent, according to Foote.

“The primary reason trade is down is Mexico,” said Foote, noting that imports from Mexico fell through the first three quarters and first two months of the fourth quarter of 2001.

Mexico posted large declines in shipments of filament yarn, blankets and comforters, textile bags and cotton underwear, while Pakistan had significant increases in cotton bar mops, polishing cloths, kitchen linens and man-made-fiber sheets and pillowcases, Foote noted.