WASHINGTON — Apparel imports rose 3 percent in October from a year earlier to 2.2 billion square meter equivalents, largely because of increased shipments from China, Vietnam and Honduras.

This story first appeared in the December 13, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The rise boosted total apparel and textile imports by 3.5 percent to 4.9 billion SME, the third highest month on record. The goods were valued at $9.1 billion and contributed to the politically sensitive trade deficit, a key issue at high-level talks in Xianghe, China.

China’s apparel shipments shot up 13.6 percent for the month to 841 million SME, with particular strength in cotton nightwear and man-made fiber dresses, as well as quota-restrained cotton sweaters, according to a Commerce Department report Wednesday. Imports from Vietnam increased 49.1 percent to 126 million SME, and shipments from Honduras were up 18.9 percent to 114 million SME.

Since there is little domestic apparel production left, the imports account for part of the gap between what the U.S. buys from other countries and what it sells, which has narrowed some with increased exports spurred by a weaker dollar. The total deficit in goods and services through Oct. 31 shrunk by 8.3 percent to $587 billion.

But the goods deficit with China grew 12 percent for the first 10 months of the year to $213.5 billion, on track to set a new annual record with a single country. Critics in Congress and in the domestic industry are pushing for a tougher stance against China, which they say is capturing a dangerous percentage of the U.S. import market by restraining the value of its currency and unfairly subsidizing its producers.

“Both the Democratic leadership in Congress and the Bush administration’s Treasury Department deserve grades of F this year for failing to act to stop the problem,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents textile producers.

Last month, China agreed to drop several subsides that were the subject of a U.S. legal challenge in the World Trade Organization, though little progress has been made on the currency policies, which critics say undervalue the yuan by as much as 40 percent.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, attending the meetings in China, emphasized increased U.S. exports as the solution for the deficit.

“The administration is committed to working with China to create a more open and balanced trading relationship, as well as ensuring the safety of imports crossing America’s borders,” Gutierrez said. “More trade and more competition are good for our economies and for the world.”