By  on November 11, 2004

WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile imports from China drove global shipments to the U.S. in the twin sectors to the highest September and nine-month period on record.

The import picture was revealed Wednesday in the Commerce Department’s trade report that came as the Bush administration begins a full review of six safeguard petitions that seek to restrict Chinese imports.

While worldwide imports of textiles and apparel rose by 368.1 million square meters equivalent in September to 4.1 billion SME, Chinese exports to the U.S. increased by 295.1 million SME, a 36.7 percent jump to 1.09 billion SME. In the first nine months of the year, imports of apparel and textiles from China rose 45.9 percent, far surpassing the growth in global imports, to 8.7 billion SME. Global imports of textiles and apparel increased 10.6 percent to 35.1 billion SME for the year-to-date.

China continued to post its biggest import increases and dominate in categories no longer under quota, such as quilts and comforters, tablecloths and napkins, man-made fiber woven bags, luggage and infants’ wear. China controlled 24.2 percent of the apparel and textile import market in the U.S. for the year ended Sept. 30. In textiles, China had a 31.2 percent share of U.S. imports for the 12 months and had a 14.5 percent share in apparel.

Many of the top 10 suppliers of apparel and textiles to the U.S. showed strong penetration in the U.S. in the first three quarters of the year. Shipments from Mexico, the second largest textile and apparel supplier, rose 5.3 percent during that period, while imports from Pakistan, the fourth largest supplier, gained 11.9 percent. Exports to the U.S. advanced 14.3 percent from South Korea, 13.3 percent from India and 11.1 percent from Indonesia.

Other countries in the top 10 posted declines in imports for the year to date. Canada, the third-largest supplier, saw a 1.7 percent drop, Taiwan’s shipments were off 5.7 percent and Thailand posted a 0.3 percent dip.

The U.S. trade deficit for all goods narrowed in September to $51.6 billion due to a weakening dollar that boosted exports. For the first nine months, the apparel and textile trade deficit was $54.6 billion, a 6.7 percent gain from the year-ago period.The U.S. and 147 other members of the World Trade Organization are set to eliminate quotas on apparel and textiles on Jan. 1 and some in the industry anticipate consolidation of sourcing to result. The prospect of China dominating global trade in the sectors has prompted a coalition of textile and apparel industry groups to pressure the Bush administration to take preemptive action against that growth.

The National Council of Textile Organizations, American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, National Cotton Council, SEAMS, American Fiber Manufacturers Association and UNITE HERE have filed eight of an expected 13 safeguard petitions and are targeting a total of 21 categories valued at $1.96 billion in 2003.

The Bush administration accepted six China safeguard petitions, covering cotton trousers, cotton knit shirts and man-made fiber knit shirts for full review at the beginning of the month.

“The data is bearing out everything we have asserted in our petitions that China is capable of and is willing to overrun this market,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of AMTAC. “The clear trend of China consuming two-thirds of the market in nonquota categories is undeniable. The environment is going to change dramatically in the remaining categories when quota limits are removed in January.”

Steve Lamar, senior vice president at American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “What you are seeing is they are going after product categories that are representing a lot of trade. If safeguards are imposed, the trade will not come back from China, it will come from other countries. But it won’t come back to the U.S., and that creates a false expectation in some way that the textile industry will benefit from this.”

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