WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel imports fell 6.6 percent to 4.8 billion square meter equivalents in July from a year earlier, a sign that a weakening economy and declining consumer confidence has impacted overseas orders, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel’s report showed Thursday.
Nine of the top 10 supplier countries posted declines in apparel and textile imports. The only increase in imports came from Vietnam, which has taken more business away from top supplier China as sourcing has shifted out of that country because of rising labor, raw material and transportation costs.
Total apparel shipments fell 3.5 percent to 2.2 billion SME compared with July 2010, while textile shipments declined 8.9 percent to 2.6 billion SME.
“Overall, the fact that domestic spending, especially household spending on consumer goods, is edging downward is going to reduce the pool of imports for consumer goods [including apparel],” said Gregory Daco, principal U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.
The overall trade deficit “narrowed sharply” to $44.8 billion in July, contracting $6.8 billion from June and marking the largest monthly decline since February 2009, Daco noted.
China, the top apparel and textile supplier to the U.S., posted a second month of import declines. Combined shipments fell 7.6 percent to 2.4 billion SME in July, as apparel imports fell 3.2 percent to 1 billion SME and textile imports declined 10.5 percent to 1.3 billion SME.
But combined apparel and textile shipments from Vietnam rose 6.6 percent to 267 million SME in July compared with a year earlier, as apparel imports increased 0.9 percent to 167 million SME and textile shipments were up 17.7 percent to 100 million SME.
Among the other top 10 suppliers, combined apparel and textile shipments from South Korea declined 15.9 percent to 106 million SME, imports from Honduras fell 13.4 percent to 111 million SME, goods coming from Mexico fell 8.4 percent to 209 million SME and combined imports from Pakistan fell 7 percent to 229 million SME.
Another sign of the weakening economy was reflected in the combined apparel and textile shipments from Central America, which has been gaining some business as companies shift a portion of their apparel production back to the Western Hemisphere to take advantage of shorter lead times and fast fashion turns. Combined apparel and textile shipments from the region, including the Dominican Republic, fell 7.3 percent to 286 million SME in July compared with a year earlier.
“I believe replenishing in retailing is somewhat down,” said a government trade analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It is reflected in knitwear imports that come from [Central America] and it is a reaction to consumer spending, which is down. At home and abroad, the market is diminishing.”