WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile imports to the U.S. continued their long decline in October, with China and Vietnam posting the only gains for the month.

This story first appeared in the December 11, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel said Thursday shipments of textiles and apparel from China increased 3.2 percent to 2.1 billion square meter equivalents, and imports from Vietnam rose 17.4 percent to 206 million SME.

The two countries, however, showed strength in different areas. Apparel shipments from China increased 9.1 percent to 971 million SME in October compared with the prior year, while textile imports fell 1.2 percent to 1.2 billion SME. Vietnam’s apparel imports increased 10.6 percent to 162 million SME, and textile imports spiked 51.3 percent to 44 million SME.

Total shipments of textiles and apparel to the U.S. declined 9.2 percent to 4.3 billion SME. Despite the continued year-over-year decline, the volume of textile and apparel imports in October was the second highest for a single month in 2009, the Commerce Department said. September was the highest for the year.

Most of the countries shipping apparel and textiles to the U.S. reported declining figures in October compared with a year earlier. Shipments from Honduras, where a June coup created disruptions, fell 31.7 percent to 91 million SME. Shipments from Pakistan declined 21.7 percent to 225 million SME. Imports from Bangladesh dropped 21.2 percent to 126 million SME, while shipments from India were down 15 percent to 224 million SME.

The top five apparel suppliers to the U.S. in October were China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Honduras. Falling imports from Honduras bumped the politically troubled country down one slot on the list. China was also the top textile supplier to the U.S., followed by Pakistan, India, South Korea and Mexico.

The nation’s overall trade deficit unexpectedly narrowed to $32.9 billion in October compared with $35.7 billion in September, driven by a drop in oil imports.

“We still believe that the trade deficit will widen as the recovery proceeds, with imports bouncing more than exports as domestic demand rises. But that wasn’t the case in October, and for [the fourth quarter], overall trade should support growth rather than restrain it,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist, IHS Global Insight.

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