By  on April 10, 2009

WASHINGTON — U.S. textile and apparel imports fell sharply in February as the recession stifled consumer demand.

The Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel said Thursday apparel and textile imports declined 18.9 percent to 3.3 billion square meter equivalents compared with February 2008. Textiles declined at a sharper rate than apparel, falling 22.2 percent to 1.8 billion SME. Apparel imports dropped 14.8 percent to 1.5 billion SME.

February was the 10th consecutive month in which imports to the U.S. declined in year-over-year comparisons. Total textile and apparel imports for the month were at their lowest level since February 2004.

The trade gap narrowed sharply to $26 billion in February from $36.2 billion in January, a 28.3 percent reduction. Export levels stopped falling in February, while imports continued their decline, said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight. Imports “dived again,” he said, with big declines in consumer goods and other categories.

“The lower import volumes reflect lower spending by U.S. businesses on capital equipment, lower consumer spending and a major inventory adjustment by U.S. purchasers,” Gault said. “The import decline shows how the U.S. is passing on its demand weakness to the rest of the world.”

According to the office of the U.S. trade representative, exports of U.S. manufactured goods increased 1.6 percent to $126.8 billion in February compared with January. Imports of all goods fell 5.1 percent to $152.7 billion overall.

“Shrinking trade deficits are usually good news, but these numbers reflect the ongoing contraction in world trade overall,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.

Textile and apparel shipments from China dropped 24.2 percent to 1.2 billion SME. Most of the decline was driven by a 29.9 percent decline in textile shipments to 735 million SME. Apparel imports from China fell 13.6 percent to 484 million SME.

The majority of the top 10 countries shipping apparel and textiles to the U.S. posted declines. Combined imports from Mexico slid the most in February, falling 28.6 percent to 158 million SME. South Korea’s shipments declined 18.1 percent to 113 million SME. Shipments from Honduras fell 19.5 percent to 87 million SME.

The only countries that increased import levels in February were Vietnam and Bangladesh, which continued to buck the trend of the last 10 months. Apparel and textile shipments from Vietnam increased 6.9 percent to 164 million SME and imports from Bangladesh were up 9 percent to 137 million SME.

The top five apparel suppliers to the U.S. were China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Honduras and Indonesia. China was also the top textile supplier, followed by Pakistan, India, Mexico and South Korea.

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