By  on August 15, 2007

WASHINGTON — Among the top 10 countries importing apparel to the U.S., only three managed increases in June — China, Vietnam and Indonesia — as the overall trade deficit and clothing imports fell.

China, which has generally been siphoning business away from the rest of the globe, led the pack with a 23.7 percent rise in shipments to 712 million square meter equivalents, valued at $1.9 billion. Vietnam's imports advanced 15.7 percent to 108 million SME, while Indonesia inched up 2.3 percent to 86 million SME.

China's growth came in spite of quotas on key goods, such as cotton trousers and underwear, as Vietnam chugged along in the face of a Bush administration program designed to track imports from the country for dumping, which occurs when goods are imported below the cost of manufacturing or at less than market value. Any chilling impact on trade from the monitoring program, which was instituted in January, would show up in orders for the second half of the year.

Offsetting the gains by these countries were a host of decliners, led by Mexico, which saw shipments fall 20.1 percent to 111 million SME in the month.

Overall apparel imports from the world slipped 2 percent in June to 2 billion SME. During the first half of the year, however, apparel imports grew by 7 percent to 10.9 billion SME as shipments of textiles slid 1 percent to 14.8 billion SME.

The broader trade picture in June showed a narrowing of the deficit in goods and services to $58.1 billion from $59.2 billion in May, according to a report Tuesday from the Commerce Department.

Despite the overall reduction, the U.S. goods deficit with China widened to $21.2 billion in June from $20 billion the previous month, prompting renewed calls for action against the country, which U.S. producers and lawmakers contend has an unfair advantage because of its currency policy and a myriad of government subsidies.

"Congress is just itching to do something on China," said Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation. "If we see an increase in imports, that's just going to be adding more fuel to the fire."Noting the deficit on China is headed toward $270 billion this year, up from a record deficit of $232.5 billion in 2006, Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, called the growing divide "out of control."

"Because China cheats by heavily subsidizing its industry and exports, the U.S. trade deficit with China only will keep rising," Tantillo said in a statement, which also noted the U.S. has lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2001.

Focusing instead on an increase in U.S. exports for the month, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez urged Congress to pass free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

"The overwhelming majority of these countries' exports already enter the United States duty free, while U.S. exports to these countries face significant tariffs," Gutierrez said in a statement. "These four [free trade agreements] will level the playing field and open new export opportunities for American businesses, workers, farmers and ranchers."

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