WASHINGTON — India posted the largest increase in apparel imports to the U.S. in August compared with a year earlier, while Vietnam and Bangladesh, the second and third largest apparel suppliers, respectively, continued to eclipse top supplier China with double-digit gains, a report from the U.S. Commerce Department showed Thursday.

Combined shipments of textile and apparel imports from the world to the U.S. rose 7 percent to 5.4 billion square meter equivalents in August from a year earlier. Total apparel imports were up 5.5 percent to 2.4 billion SME, while textile imports increased 8.3 percent to 2.95 billion SME.

Apparel imports from India rose 17.2 percent to 73 million SME in August compared with August 2012, while apparel imports from Bangladesh increased 16 percent to 161 million SME and apparel shipments from Vietnam rose 14.3 percent to 217 SME. On a combined textile and apparel import basis, Vietnam posted the largest increase with a 16 percent increase to 310 million SME.

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Combined imports from China, the top supplier of textiles and apparel to the U.S., were up 10.4 percent to 2.8 billion SME.

“When you look at the overall trend for apparel, Vietnam and Bangladesh continue to be strong,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “Of course for China, even a relatively low percentage increase is pretty important since they have 41 percent of market share right now to the U.S. We had wondered whether or not Bangladesh’s import might dip based on concern about compliance and safety issues after the tragedy at the Rana Plaza building [that killed 1,132 people], but what we are seeing is that despite some nervousness in the sourcing community, we continue to see strong growth from Bangladesh.”

Hughes noted that India has long been in the top 10 apparel suppliers to the U.S., but generally not with substantial growth.

“So this is a really interesting shift and perhaps part of larger shift to India from other sources of supply,” said Hughes, pointing to Pakistan, which posted a 3.1 percent decline in apparel imports in August from a year earlier.

Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said any negative impact on apparel imports from Bangladesh would not show up in the government data until the fourth quarter or first quarter of 2014 because orders were placed well in advance of the Rana Plaza tragedy on April 24.

“There might not be negative numbers, but the growth that we have seen in Bangladesh over the last 10 years might no longer be there,” Herman said.

Honduras, a big supplier of cotton underwear, T-shirts and socks, saw the biggest drop among the top 10 suppliers, as apparel imports fell 12 percent in August to 89 million SME.

The overall trade deficit widened slightly to $38.8 billion in August from $38.6 billion in July. Michael Montgomery, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said, “Sales in the U.S. are not growing fast enough to suck in imports, [while] at the same time, foreign economies are not growing fast enough to absorb more U.S.-made goods. The net result is a very bland trade picture.”

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