WASHINGTON — Vietnam and Cambodia posted the strongest increases in apparel and textile imports to the U.S. in February compared with a year earlier, as China’s import growth also bounced back, the Commerce Department’s monthly trade report showed Tuesday.
Six out of the top 10 suppliers to the U.S. had double-digit import increases for the month as retailers restocked after the holiday and clearance periods.
Overall apparel and textile imports to the U.S. from the world rose 19.5 percent to 5.2 billion square meter equivalents in February from a year earlier. Apparel imports increased 19.4 percent to 2.3 billion SME, while textile imports rose 19.6 percent to 2.8 billion SME.
Vietnam led the pack with a 35.6 percent year-over-year increase in apparel and textile imports to 398 SME. China, the top supplier to the U.S. that had seen a slowdown in import growth, picked up the pace with a 23.1 percent increase to 2.4 billion SME year-to-year.
Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said some of the pickup in overall apparel imports was likely due to an increase in demand for outerwear in January, which had more seasonably cold temperatures.
Vietnam, a partner country in the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact with the U.S. and 10 other countries, is attracting new business in anticipation of the deal being approved and implemented, Herman said.
“The apparel import numbers are starting to reflect signs that the [TPP negotiations] were close to being done in the summer, which led to [even more] interest in Vietnam,” Herman said.
Trade officials from the 12 countries signed TPP in February, but the deal has several obstacles to overcome, including ratification by Congress in the U.S. and by other countries.
Herman said China has not seen the kind of growth it had in its year-over-year apparel import increase in February in four or five years.
“China is the most reliable supplier,” Herman said. “Even though costs are rising, it is still the best place to get products when you need them.”
Cambodia, which has seen its labor situation stabilize in the past few months, also posted a strong apparel import gain of 29.6 percent.
“Nine months ago [when the orders for February’s imports were placed], companies felt very comfortable about what was going on in Cambodia and the number reflects that,” Herman said.
He cautioned, however, that a new union law took effect in Cambodia on Monday that left factory owners and unions unhappy, which companies will have to keep an eye on.
Herman noted that four African countries posted significant increases in apparel imports to the U.S. for the month, although the increases were from a small but growing base. Apparel imports from Ethiopia were up 76.3 percent, while imports from Madagascar rose 51.9 percent in the month. Imports from Lesotho increased 34 percent and imports from Mauritius rose 19.8 percent.
The increases were linked to the a 10-year extension of the African Growth & Opportunity Act by Congress last year that gives duty-free benefits to several developing sub-Saharan African nations.
The U.S. trade deficit widened in February to $47.1 billion from $45.9 billion in January, led by increases across a swat of sectors, with the exception of auto imports, according to Patrick Newport, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.
“According to models used at the Federal Reserve to monitor trade impacts, a 10 percent appreciation of the dollar reduces real GDP by 1.5 percent over three years, with nearly half the impact felt in the first year,” Newport said. “Since July 2014, the Federal Reserve’s price-adjusted Broad Dollar Index has appreciated about 16 percent, implying that net exports will slice 2.5 percent to 3 percent off real GDP over 2015 to 2017.”
“Despite a slight of loss of strength this year, we expect a slight strengthening of the dollar over the next two quarters,” Newport added. “The dollar is appreciating because, in terms of performance, the U.S. is the leader of a slow-moving pack.”