WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile imports to the U.S. rose 3.5 percent in October on a year-over-year basis, as retailers boosted inventories in advance of the holiday season and rushed to beat a port strike that was later resolved on the West Coast, a report on Tuesday from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel showed.

This story first appeared in the December 12, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Combined apparel and textile shipments reached 4.8 billion square meter equivalents in the month, with apparel imports up 5.8 percent to 2.2 billion SME and textile shipments increasing 1.7 percent to 2.6 billion SME.

“I think people were trying to rush in their shipments with all of the uncertainty on the West Coast [and the potential for a port strike], which didn’t become a big problem, and all of the uncertainties about a port strike on the East Coast,” said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

On the West Coast, an eight-day port strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach ended after federal mediators intervened on Dec. 5. However, concerns are still running high about a possible port strike at the East and Gulf Coast ports. Talks between the United States Maritime Alliance and International Longshoremen Association over a new contract covering workers at ports from Maine to Texas and affecting about 20 percent of all apparel, textiles and footwear trade, are ongoing, but the extension expires Dec. 29 and importers are anxious a resolution will not be reached in time.

Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the AAFA, said, “If a strike occurs, we will witness damage much greater than what we saw last week, which will hurt U.S. businesses, American workers and hard-working American families, all at a time when the U.S. economy can least afford it.”

Apparel and textile shipments from China, the top supplier to the U.S., rose 5.4 percent to 2.4 billion SME compared with October 2011. Combined shipments from Vietnam, the number-two supplier, were up 7.8 percent to 310 million SME from a year earlier. Indonesia had the largest industry increase, up 13.8 percent to 137 million SME, followed by South Korea’s 3.1 percent gain to 110 million SME, Mexico’s 1.9 percent uptick to 211 million SME, India’s 1.8 percent gain to 281 million SME and Bangladesh’s 1.6 percent hike to 117 million SME.

Apparel shipments from Central America and the Dominican Republic, all signatories in the Central American Free Trade Agreement, fell 1.7 percent in October year-on-year. By comparison, combined shipments from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries rose 7.8 percent in October compared with a year earlier. Canada posted the largest decline in combined apparel and textile shipments, falling 16 percent to 94 million SME in the month.

The overall trade deficit in October widened to $42.2 billion from $40.3 billion in September.

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