WASHINGTON — U.S. apparel imports from Caribbean nations under 807 programs rose 8.5 percent during the first six months of this year, compared with a year ago, according to the latest available statistics from the Commerce Department.

While most of this gain was attributable to strong production increases in El Salvador, Honduras and Jamaica, the Port of Miami was an overall winner, as virtually all of the textiles and apparel going back and forth between the U.S. and the Caribbean Basin Nations was funneled through the port.

Data compiled by Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel showed that for the six months ending in June, the U.S. imported 579.4 million square meters equivalent of apparel from CBI nations under both 807 programs, up from 534.3 million SME for the first six months of 1993.

However, during this period, U.S. imports under regular 807, which permits the use of foreign fabric so long as it is cut in the U.S., rose 14.1 percent to 427.3 million SME, while imports under 807(A), that requires U.S. fabrics be used in return for expanded quota, fell 4.7 percent to 152.2 million SME.

Several industry analysts have said it is too early to try to attribute the decline in 807(A) imports from the Caribbean to the Jan. 1 startup of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which phases-in free trade benefits for Mexico’s apparel manufacturers.

To underscore the inconclusiveness of the numbers, some analysts noted apparel imports from the CBI made without the benefit of any special programs rose 15.6 percent to 141.2 million SME for the first six months of this year.

Among the CBI nations, U.S. imports under 807 programs from El Salvador grew the fastest — up 62.1 percent, from 32.7 million SME during the first half of 1993, to 53 million SME for the first six months of this year.

Strong gainers from El Salvador included women’s and girl’s cotton slacks, category 348, up 107.6 percent to 8.4 million SME. Women’s and girl’s cotton dresses, category 336, rose 120.8 percent to 2.4 million SME. Shipments of women’s and girl’s wool coats, category 435, climbed from just 16,000 SME the first six months of 1993 to 71,000 SME this year, while exports of cotton nightwear, category 351, jumped from just 29,000 SME to 1.7 million SME.

U.S. imports under 807 programs from Honduras grew 25.4 percent to 59.6 million SME in the half, with several women’s apparel categories also contributing to the growth. Among them were cotton slacks and skirts and man-made fiber knit blouses.

Imports from Jamaica under 807 programs during the first half of this year rose 17.4 percent, from 68 million SME to 79.9 million SME.

Shipments from the Dominican Republic, which account for 34 percent of all 807 imports, were up 2.4 percent, from 191.4 million SME for the first six months of 1993 to 195.9 million SME the first half of this year.

Costa Rica, the second largest 807 program shipper, saw its program shipments in the first half rise 10.6 percent to 113.1 million SME, from 102.5 million SME a year earlier.

Meanwhile, analysts who specialize in CBI trade have said numerous trade apolitical events make it difficult to gauge the outlook for Miami-Caribbean Basin trade, but they remain optimistic. For example, the Beacon Council, Miami’s business development group, noted the city’s share of bilateral trade with the Caribbean has grown from 37 percent in 1989 to 40 percent last year. The Council expects this expansion to continue, even if the U.S. should not grant CBI nations parity with Mexico for making and exporting apparel.

During 1993, apparel products accounted for 11 of the top 45 imports that came into Miami.

The value of all imports that went through its water and air ports in 1993 was $7.15 billion, of which apparel accounted for 34.3 percent, or $2.45 billion, according to the Beacon Council data.

The Miami agency forecast that “a resolution of political and subsequent economic issues in Haiti will bode well for Miami’s trade in 1994 and beyond.”

Haiti had been one of the top CBI-apparel producing nations until a succession of coups beginning in the late Eighties sent manufacturers of all types fleeing, often to the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

— Fairchild News Service