WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel imports to the U.S. rose 5.8 percent in February, compared with a year earlier, to 4.1 billion square meter equivalents, marking the highest level for any February since 1989, the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel said Tuesday.

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Apparel imports in February increased 7. 8 percent year-to-year to 1.9 billion SME, while textile shipments gained 4.1 percent in the same period to 2.2 billion SME.

“The import numbers are up because retailers and brands are betting the economy will continue to improve,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “Spring sales, warmer weather sales and a late Easter this year are driving these numbers.”

The nation’s overall trade deficit, driven down by a decline in oil imports, fell 2.6 percent to $45.8 billion in February. The trade deficit with China, a flash point between Washington and Beijing, declined 19 percent for the month to $18.8 billion.

“This month showed a slowdown from the January surges in [overall] export and import volumes,” said Gregory Daco, senior economist for IHS Global Insight.

Combined apparel and textile shipments from top supplier China rose 12.4 percent to 1.8 billion SME in February — apparel imports increased 6.3 percent to 712 million SME and textile imports were up 16.5 percent to 1.1 billion SME. Combined imports from Vietnam, the second largest supplier to the U.S. in February, soared 19 percent to 256 million SME, as apparel imports rose 16.6 percent to 174 million SME and textile imports increased 24.7 percent to 83 million SME.

India, the third largest supplier to the U.S., saw combined shipments fall 2.8 percent to 243 million SME, with apparel imports declining 4 percent to 81 million SME and textile imports falling 2.2 percent to 162 million SME. Other top 10 countries showing major growth in apparel imports were Bangladesh, with a 16.5 percent increase; El Salvador, with a 13.6 percent gain, and Indonesia, up 13.5 percent.

According to OTEXA, the top apparel suppliers in February were China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Honduras. China was also the top textile supplier, followed by India, Pakistan, Mexico and Canada.

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