WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile imports to the U.S. fell 1.3 percent in September, as weak demand drove a year-over-year decline in imports of holiday merchandise from seven of the top 10 suppliers, according to a report on Thursday from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.
Combined apparel and textile shipments declined to 4.8 billion square meter equivalents in the month compared to a year earlier, with apparel imports down 0.9 percent to 2.3 billion SME and textile shipments falling 1.6 percent to 2.5 billion SME.
“September is down because we continue to see weak consumer demand and caution among apparel brands and retailers before they bring in the products for the holiday selling season,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “In some ways, this correlates to some consumer confidence data we have been tracking that said consumers were not buying as much before the election, but quite a few retailers are optimistic that now that we are past the elections, November and December will be strong…and import numbers will track that.”
Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said: “If you take the stand-alone number [in September] and the fact that people were rushing their orders in with the fear of port strikes on the East and West Coasts, this is definitely a sign that people are approaching the holidays with very lean inventories and very cautiously.”
Apparel and textile shipments from China, the top supplier to the U.S., fell 0.7 percent to 2.5 billion SME in the month compared with September 2011. Apparel shipments edged up 0.9 percent to 1.1 billion SME, while textile imports fell 1.9 percent to 1.3 billion SME. Combined shipments from Vietnam, the number-two supplier, were down 2.9 percent to 254 million SME in September from a year earlier, as apparel imports fell 4.9 percent to 169 million SME and textile shipments fell 1.7 percent to 85 million SME.
The top seven countries posting a decline in combined textile and apparel shipments were China, Vietnam, Pakistan, Mexico, Indonesia — with the largest decline at 17.2 percent — South Korea and Canada. The three countries with an increase in imports in September were India, with a 3 percent gain to 280 million SME; Bangladesh, up 14.4 percent to 140 million SME, and Honduras with a 10 percent increase to 109 million SME.
Led by a revival in domestic oil production, the overall trade deficit in September narrowed to $41.5 billion from $43.8 billion in August, the smallest deficit since December 2010.