WASHINGTON — Apparel and textile imports to the U.S. fell 0.3 percent in November on a year-over-year basis, a report on Friday from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel showed.

Combined apparel and textile shipments to the U.S. declined to 4.2 billion square meter equivalents in the month compared with November 2011, with apparel imports rising 0.9 percent to 1.8 billion SME and textile shipments falling 1.3 percent to 2.4 billion SME.

“I expected [apparel imports] to be up for the month a little more because of the threat of the port strikes on both the West and East Coasts,” said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

Herman said the eight-day strike that took place at the Los Angeles-Long Beach ports that began in late November and ended Dec. 4 could have impacted the import totals in November because there was a five-day stretch in that month where no imports came through the nation’s largest port complex. He also said a fairly sizeable increase of 5.8 percent in apparel imports in October indicated that apparel brands and retailers were rushing to get goods in before a potential port strike, which could have led to fewer apparel shipments in November.

Apparel and textile shipments from China, the top supplier to the U.S., fell 5.3 percent to 1.9 billion SME compared with November 2011. Bangladesh had the largest increase in combined shipments, up 19.8 percent to 131 million SME, followed by India’s 19.5 percent gain to 309 million SME, Pakistan’s increase of 11.9 percent to 223 million SME and Vietnam’s uptick of 5 percent to 252 million SME.

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Canada posted the largest drop in combined shipments of 15 percent to 85 million SME, followed by China and then Mexico, which fell 3.9 percent to 197 million SME.

Looking at apparel imports in the month, Bangladesh had the largest increase of 16.9 percent to 120 million SME, followed by Pakistan with a 16 percent bump to 55 million SME. Cambodia had the largest decline in apparel imports to the U.S., with a 20.4 percent drop to 70 million SME.

Herman said it was notable that apparel imports from Vietnam rose 8 percent in November and were up 5.8 percent in the first 11 months of 2012, compared with a year earlier, while apparel shipments from China fell 1.5 percent and were up 0.7 percent through November.

In Bangladesh, a garment workers strike in October likely delayed shipments and led to the double-digit increase in apparel imports in November, Herman said. He also noted that any fallout from the factory fire at Tazreen Fashions Ltd. in Bangladesh on Nov. 24 that killed more than 111 garment workers, will not be reflected in import data — if companies shift business out of the country as a result — until the first quarter of this year.

The overall trade deficit widened to $48.7 billion in November from $42.1 billion in October.

“As expected, imports and exports bounced back from their October slump, but imports came back much stronger than anticipated,” said Gregory Daco, senior principal economist at IHS Global Insight. “Hurricane Sandy is partially to blame for the sharp swings in trade data, since it most likely weighed down on the October numbers and overinflated the November ones. The other exogenous factor influencing the monthly data is the eight-day clerical workers strike in the major ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.”

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