WASHINGTON — Bangladesh posted the largest increase in apparel imports to the U.S. among the top 10 suppliers in June, followed by Vietnam and Indonesia, the Commerce Department’s monthly report showed Wednesday.
Bangladesh, which has been undergoing extensive reforms in its garment industry in the wake of two factory tragedies, registered a 23.2 percent increase in apparel imports to 162 million-square-meter equivalents in June compared with a year earlier. The increase marked the second straight month of double-digit increase from Bangladesh, which some industry officials said marks a turnaround from the downturn after the Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013 that claimed the lives of more than 1,130 people.
“Bangladesh has a lot of cotton products that they ship and one would argue it was end of the summer and back-to-school product coming in and that it seems like a strong business for Bangladesh,” said Julia K. Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association.
Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said it is a sign that companies are seeing positive changes in Bangladesh. Herman said the country is a good sourcing destination for companies because it produces most of its fabrics and a lot of its own yarns.
“That’s part of the advantage of Bangladesh on the knit side of the business,” Herman said. “It is much easier to work in that country.”
He noted that Vietnam, which has been steadily growing over the past five years, is also seeking to become more vertical. Apparel imports from Vietnam, the second-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., rose 18 percent to 269 million SME in June. The country is taking part in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations with the U.S. and 10 other countries and stands to grow significantly if a deal is reached and implemented.
“That is what Vietnam is trying to establish, too,” Herman said. “They are looking to have more than just cut-and-sew operations. The interesting story with Vietnam is farther back in the supply chain. It is harder to get at but could be building up in anticipation of TPP.”
Overall imports of apparel and textiles to the U.S. rose 11.4 percent to 5.5 billion SME in June compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports were up 7.6 percent to 2.3 billion SME, while textile imports increased 14.3 percent to 3.2 billion SME.
China, the top supplier to the U.S., posted a 6.4 percent increase in apparel imports to 996 million SME. Hughes said China continues to grow modestly, despite rising costs and companies diversifying their sourcing.
“There definitely is a trend and companies are continuing to look for sourcing outside of China, but these numbers reinforce to me that at the end of the day the reason China is the top supplier is…they are one of the most reliable suppliers where you know you can get the product you ordered at the time you want it,” Hughes said.
While Asian countries led the gains in imports, some Western Hemisphere countries were flat to slightly down. Apparel imports from Honduras fell 0.1 percent to 100 million SME, while apparel imports from Mexico dropped 0.7 percent to 80 million SME.
The overall U.S. trade deficit widened in June to $43.8 billion from $40.9 billion in May, pushed by solid increases in imports of consumer goods and industrial materials.