WASHINGTON — Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam and India all posted double-digit increases in apparel imports among the top 10 suppliers to the U.S. in December compared with a year earlier, according to the Commerce Department’s trade report on Thursday.
Apparel imports from Bangladesh rose 19.9 percent to 121 million square meter equivalents compared with December 2013, after several months of significant declines in the wake of business uncertainty surrounding two factory tragedies that claimed the lives of more than 1,240 workers at the end of 2012 and in early 2013. For the entire year in 2014, apparel imports from Bangladesh were down 4.9 percent.
Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said the year-over-year decline of 16.4 percent in apparel and textile imports in November essentially canceled out the 19.9 percent increase in December.
“We still think there are some companies doing less business in Bangladesh now than they did before,” Hughes said. “I think as remediation projects and the National Action Plan and other outreach to workers continue, we will see a stabilization but right now it looks pretty volatile.”
Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “While all major companies that are sourcing from Bangladesh made commitments through the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety to stay there and continue to operate there, the companies doing limited sourcing from the country are waiting on the sidelines to see what happens and they have not renewed a lot of contracts that they had prior to 2013. That is what is reflected in the numbers.”
Apparel imports from Pakistan increased 15.5 percent to 45 million SME in the month compared to December 2013, while shipments from Vietnam gained 12.2 percent to 214 million SME. India’s apparel imports to the U.S. were up 10.5 percent to 66 million SME in December year-to-year.
China, the top U.S. apparel supplier, posted a 1.5 percent increase to 773 million SME in December against a year ago.
“I think there is a lot of interest throughout Asia about what is happening with TPP and opportunities for investment in Vietnam,” said Hughes, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 countries, including Vietnam.
Hughes said she heard from several Vietnamese industry officials at a forum in Beijing this week that “there’s interest in investing in Vietnam even without TPP.”
Herman said China’s share of the U.S. apparel import market rose to 42 percent from 41.7 percent in 2013, “despite all the talk about getting out of China.”
“Even with costs rising in China, at least you know what you are getting and it is reliable,” he said. “They’ve benefited from concerns that people have had in Bangladesh, Cambodia and elsewhere.”
Total textile and apparel imports to the U.S. from the world rose 9.2 percent to 4.6 billion SME in December compared with a year ago, with apparel imports up 5 percent to 1.9 billion SME and textile shipments gaining 12.4 percent to 2.7 billion SME.
In a major trade speech on Thursday, House Ways and Means committee chairman Paul Ryan made a push for Trade Promotion Authority, TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and U.S. But Ryan also spoke tough about what he expects from countries negotiating with the U.S., calling out Japan and Canada to lower their agricultural tariffs as part of the TPP. Ryan also said the EU must eliminate all of the tariffs it agreed to at the outset and address “unjustified regulations” in the T-TIP.