WASHINGTON — Bangladesh led the pack of top 10 apparel and textile suppliers to the U.S. in September, posting a substantial increase in imports, while Mexico registered the largest decline, the Commerce Department’s monthly report showed Wednesday.
Apparel and textile imports from Bangladesh, which has been undergoing safety and labor reforms in the wake of industrial tragedies that claimed the lives of more than 1,200 workers, rose 37.7 percent to 170 million square meter equivalent compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports alone from Bangladesh jumped 41.6 percent in September.
Pakistan followed close behind, with a 26.6 percent increase in apparel and textile imports to the U.S., totaling 220 million SME, while Mexico’s apparel and textile imports fell 11.2 percent to 192 million SME in the month.
“I’m definitely a little surprised at a 41 percent increase from Bangladesh,” said Julia K. Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “They are exceeding what we had seen as a trend of faster growth.”
Hughes attributed some of the surge to more goods being brought in for the holiday shipping period, which led to higher apparel import growth overall, as well as to efforts by many brands and retailers to help factory owners improve fire, safety, electrical and structural issues in Bangladesh.
“There is growing confidence in Bangladesh,” said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “The numbers are definitely reflective that confidence has been restored and companies are going back,” pointing to two industry-led initiatives in Bangladesh.
Herman said it is still too early to tell whether security concerns related to two unrelated violent incidents in the past month will impact future imports from the country. He said Bangladesh appears to be taking some business from China, while Hughes said it is likely coming from Cambodia, which posted a decline.
With the exception of El Salvador, which posted a double-digit increase in apparel imports to the U.S., the Western Hemisphere countries, particularly Honduras and Mexico, lost ground in September.
“I think companies are moving out of China, and the Western Hemisphere, for the most part, is not gaining any of that business,” Herman said, noting that South Asian countries are the biggest beneficiaries.
Overall apparel and textile imports to the U.S. from the world increased 4.6 percent to 5.8 billion SME from a year earlier.
China, the largest apparel and textile supplier to the U.S., posted a 1.5 percent gain to 1.3 billion SME in September, and Vietnam, the second-largest supplier, registered a 10.5 percent rise to 281 million SME.
The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in September to $40.8 billion from $48 billion in August.
“Exports were up almost across the board, with consumer and capital goods accounting for the lion’s share of the increase,” said Patrick Newport, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.
Newport said the leading drivers of the drop were industrial suppliers and materials, capital goods and autos.
“The trade balance has been zigzagging between $40 billion and $50 billion for over five years, a result of three offsetting trends,” Newport said, pointing to a widening trade balance in nonpetroleum imports, a flattening of services and a shrinking trade deficit on petroleum.