WASHINGTON — Cambodia, the seventh-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., posted the largest decline in imports in May, as overall apparel and textile imports fell, the Commerce Department’s monthly trade report showed Wednesday.
Overall textile and apparel imports to the U.S. from the world fell 1.1 percent to 5.2 billion square meter equivalents in May compared with a year earlier. Textile imports declined 3.1 percent, to 3.2 billion SME, while apparel imports rose 2.2 percent, to 2 billion SME.
Cambodia, which has been struggling with wage and labor issues, posted a 13.8 percent decline in apparel imports to 61 million SME in May against a year earlier, following a 30 percent drop in April.
Julia Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said apparel import declines from Cambodia are likely due to disruptions related to strikes and labor-management friction, as opposed to rising wages.
“A lot of companies have gone on record saying they support higher wages in Cambodia,” Hughes said. “For a lot of our members, there is not opposition to an increase in the wage rate. It might be more companies doing risk assessments and not wanting to be overly committed in Cambodia until we get through some instability that we’ve seen in recent months,” she said, pointing to periodic strikes and ongoing tension between management and workers and the role of the government.
She said some companies might be pulling back on orders in Cambodia, though she noted that there is still a commitment from many sourcing there to develop and maintain their business.
Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said he was surprised by the double-digit decline from Cambodia.
“Everything we have heard from our members is that it has been relatively stable there and there haven’t been issues or potential flash points,” Herman said. But he said the potential for labor strikes could be a factor.
Bangladesh, the fourth-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., posted a 2.5 percent increase in apparel imports to 145 million SME in May.
A deadly terrorist attack in Dhaka last week that claimed the lives of at least 20 people, including nine Italian textile executives, could have an impact on future business, although the industry officials said there has not been a significant immediate impact among their members.
The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, made up of 28 mainly U.S. firms, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Gap Inc. and VF Corp., said Tuesday night that it would remain committed to conducting inspections and implementing worker safety training despite the attack.
“While each individual member company of the Alliance is responsible for their own global sourcing decisions, the Alliance will stay the course in Bangladesh despite this unspeakable tragedy,” it said. “We believe improving safety for the millions of men and women who make a living in Bangladesh’s garment sector is a moral imperative — and while we are taking steps to ensure the safety of our staff and contractors, our work to improve safety in garment factories will continue.”
The Alliance was formed — along with the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, comprised of 200 mostly European companies with two global unions, IndustriALL and UNI Global Union — in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy, which claimed the lives of 1,133 workers and injured more than 2,000.
Hughes said there is a continuing commitment by Alliance members and nonmembers to maintain operations in Bangladesh despite the attack.
She said the biggest issue confronting companies is whether they can send in teams to Bangladesh.
“That will, over the long run, have an impact on the size of business, but, obviously, no one is pulling business out,” she said.
Herman said he doesn’t expect an immediate impact but noted the security concerns might have an impact on “new business” if the “negative situation there drags on.”
China, the top supplier of apparel and textiles to the U.S., posted a 0.8 percent increase in apparel imports and an 8 percent decrease in textile imports, for a combined decline of 5.4 percent in May.
Herman said some bright spots included apparel imports from Ethiopia, which were up 173 percent; imports from Myanmar, up 114 percent, and imports from Madagascar, up 179 percent.
Hughes pointed to Nicaragua, which saw a 25 percent increase in apparel imports in May.