WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile imports from Vietnam, India, Bangladesh and South Korea rose by double-digit percentages in April, while shipments from China fell, the Commerce Department’s trade report showed Wednesday.
Combined apparel and textile imports from the world to the U.S. increased 5.9 percent to 4.8 billion square meter equivalents in April compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports were up 1.1 percent to 1.9 billion SME, while textile shipments gained 9.2 percent to 2.9 billion SME.
Vietnam, the U.S.’ second-largest apparel supplier, posted the biggest gain in apparel imports — a 19.4 percent increase compared to April 2014 to 259 million SME.
Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, said Vietnam has likely benefited from business shifting due to turmoil in Cambodia over the minimum wage rate, as well as from Indonesia, which has seen shipments fall in previous months.
“I’ve also heard that some [additional] China production might be moving to Vietnam,” Hughes said. “I attended a summit in Beijing earlier this year and Chinese manufacturers talked about looking for other options for sourcing and they definitely are looking at Vietnam.”
U.S. companies have also been investing more in Vietnam, particularly as costs rise in China and instability in other Asian countries forces a shift in sourcing.
Combined apparel and textile imports from China, the number-one supplier to the U.S., fell 0.4 percent to 1.9 billion SME in April compared with a year earlier. Apparel imports declined 11.9 percent to 570 million SME.
Hughes called the significant double-digit decline in apparel imports from China an “anomaly” and attributed it to the disruption caused by a protracted labor dispute at West Coast ports that caused slowdowns, congestion and backlogs for months.
“All I can point to is people shipped early to make sure they got product in [to the West Coast ports] and there were still delays,” said Hughes, even though the dispute has ended. “The overall trend for the year isn’t showing a decrease.”
Apparel imports from China soared 54.5 percent in March on a year-over-year basis, apparent evidence that companies were rushing to get goods in. Combined imports from China were up 6.4 percent for the year ending April 30.
“The numbers are still a little off because in April there was still a lot of catching up on the West Coast,” said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “China is down because a lot of companies brought stuff in in March.”
Herman said the double-digit increases in imports from Vietnam and Bangladesh were also likely tied to the West Coast port crisis that delayed the entry of products until they were cleared in April. But he noted that Vietnam has been gaining U.S. apparel import market share for five of the last six years.
Bangladesh, which has struggled to make major reforms in its garment industry for the past two years in the wake of two factory and building tragedies there, posted an 18 percent increase in combined apparel and textile imports in April on a year-over-year basis, with the bulk apparel.
“We think Bangladesh is going to turn the corner because of the strong commitments companies have made as part of the [Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety],” Herman said. “The numbers are starting to reflect that.”
India, which has seen imports to the U.S. grow steadily, posted a 17.8 percent gain to 427 million SME in the month, while South Korea posted a 42.3 percent increase in combined imports to 150 million SME.