WASHINGTON — Cambodia posted the largest decline in apparel imports to the U.S. in August, as five of the top 10 apparel suppliers also saw decreases, the Commerce Department’s monthly trade report showed Wednesday.
Overall textile and apparel imports to the U.S. from the world fell 2.4 percent to 6 billion square meter equivalents in August compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports declined 4.2 percent to 2.7 billion SME, while textile imports slid 1 percent to 3.3 billion SME.
Cambodia, although still the seventh-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., has been struggling with wage and labor issues over the past several months, reflected in its apparel import numbers, which have seen several months of declines. In August, apparel imports from Cambodia fell 21.1 percent to 90 million SME.
“It continues to reflect some concerns about Cambodia,” said Julia K. Hughes, president at the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “When we talk to companies who have had an important presence in Cambodia, no one has said ‘I’m pulling out.’ But we see imports going down so some companies sourcing there are not sourcing there anymore or are cutting back sourcing there.”
China, the top supplier of apparel and textiles to the U.S., posted an 8.6 percent decline in apparel imports to 1.3 billion SME, reflecting a continuation in sourcing shifts out of China due to rising labor costs and new alternatives.
The other top 10 suppliers posting declines were Pakistan, with a 9.2 percent drop; Bangladesh, with a 6.8 percent decline, and Honduras with a 6.7 percent decrease.
“The numbers are a little surprising because this is a peak shipping season in August,” Hughes said. “Brands and retailers continue to be very conservative with their purchasing and they do not want to take on extra inventory. I think we still see that reflected in this data.”
Vietnam, the second-largest apparel importer to the U.S., posted the largest increase in apparel imports of 11.6 percent in August.
Companies are continuing to invest in Vietnam, which is a partner in the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. The TPP, involving the U.S., Vietnam and 10 other countries, has been caught up in the presidential election debate and slowed Congressional consideration of the trade deal.
President Obama has joined forces with past and present government officials and major business groups to press Republican leaders in Congress to bring the trade pact to a vote after the election next month in a lame duck session.
“The investment there is growing,” said Nate Herman, senior vice president of supply chain at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “People are going to Vietnam because it is the right alternative to China. It is able to do more tech products and also has the capability to do a lot of women’s fashion apparel, including jeans.”
Herman said if TPP is enacted, it will encourage even more companies to source from Vietnam.
Herman said other countries showed import growth, including El Salvador and Nicaragua, which appears to be gaining some of the business that Honduras is losing in Central America. He also noted four African countries were up significantly: Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania and the island nation Mauritius.
The U.S. trade deficit widened in August to $40.7 billion from $39.5 billion in July.