WASHINGTON — Led by Vietnam, textile and apparel imports to the U.S. from South Asia increased in July as shipments from most other countries fell.

This story first appeared in the September 11, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel said Thursday that shipments of textiles and apparel to the U.S. fell 8.7 percent in July, to 4.2 billion square meter equivalents, compared with a year earlier.

Apparel and textile imports from Vietnam increased 16.7 percent to 194 million SME in July compared with a year earlier. Shipments from Bangladesh were up 3.1 percent to 138 million SME. India increased its imports 1.7 percent to 227 million SME, and Pakistan’s shipments were up 1.2 percent to 249 million SME.

Not every country in Asia saw imports increase. Shipments from South Korea fell 30 percent year-to-year in July to 117 million SME and imports from Indonesia declined 7.9 percent to 127 million SME.

Shipments of textiles and apparel from China declined 1 percent to 1.9 billion SME in July from a year earlier, driven down mostly by falling textile imports. Apparel shipments from China to the U.S. increased 10.9 percent to 878 million SME in 12-month comparisons.

Canada, Mexico and Honduras all reported double-digit declines in textile and apparel shipments. Imports from Honduras, a member of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, fell 32.8 percent to 88 million SME. Partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement didn’t fare well either. Shipments from Mexico dropped 18.8 percent to 201 million SME, while Canada’s imports declined 18.3 percent to 98 million SME.

Apparel and textiles have been in a “schizophrenic period,” said Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist at IHS Global Insight. Sales have picked up and then slowed at retail, which has an erratic effect on import levels.

“There’s been no sustained momentum,” Bethune said.

The top five apparel suppliers to the U.S. in July were China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Honduras and Indonesia. China was also the top textile supplier, followed by Pakistan, India, South Korea and Mexico.

The nation’s trade deficit widened more than expected to $32 billion from $27.5 billion in July, according to the Commerce Department.

“The bottom line is that the surge in the July trade deficit should be viewed as good news,” Bethune said. “It is a sign that the U.S. economy is accelerating out of recession early in the quarter.”

Effective inventory management and a slight pick-up in demand for some categories, including automotive products, semiconductors and to a lesser extent computers and electronics, has helped fuel some import increases, he said.

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