WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel imports to the U.S. posted double-digit growth in March, rounding out a strong first quarter and buoying the nascent economic recovery that is under way, the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel said Wednesday.

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Shipments of textiles and apparel to the U.S. rose 17.7 percent to 4.06 billion square meter equivalents in March, compared with a year earlier. For the first quarter, textile and apparel imports increased 14 percent to 12 billion SME compared with a year ago.

Apparel imports were up 17.3 percent to 1.8 billion SME in March and textile imports increased 17.9 percent to 2.2 billion SME. For the quarter, apparel imports rose 11.4 percent to 5.2 billion SME, while textile imports were up 16 percent to 6.7 billion SME.

“This shows that companies are restarting and reinvigorating their supply chains, which in many cases had gone idle during the recession,” said Chris Cornell, an economist with Moody’s Economy.com. “The numbers are consistent with the overall idea that apparel is joining the overall economic recovery.”

The overall trade deficit increased to $40.4 billion in March from $39.4 billion, according to the Commerce Department.

“The trade deficit may have widened in March, but this was a positive report for the U.S. and global growth outlook,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight. “It showed sharp increases in both export and import volumes, indicating that the world trade recovery still has plenty of momentum.”

Exports in March rose 3.2 percent to $147.9 billion from February.

“The rise in imports shows increasing consumer confidence in America’s economic recovery,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “It’s heartening to see a corresponding increase in exports.”

Combined imports of textiles and apparel from China, the largest supplier to the U.S., continued on pace with an increase in March of 21.5 percent to 1.5 billion SME compared with a year earlier. The volume of apparel from China jumped 27 percent to 539 million SME, while textile shipments increased 18.7 percent to 951 million SME.

Combined shipments from Vietnam, the fifth largest supplier to the U.S., spiked 45.9 percent to 213 million SME in the month. Textile imports from Vietnam rose 165.2 percent to 82 million SME, while apparel shipments gained 13.5 percent to 131 million SME.

Textile and apparel shipments from Mexico, the fourth largest supplier to the U.S., advanced 32 percent to 233 million SME in March. The volume of apparel shipments rose 16.6 percent to 89 million SME, while textiles entering the country increased 43 percent to 144 million SME.

Shipments from India, the second largest supplier in March, were up 16.4 percent to 279 million SME, while combined shipments from Pakistan, the third largest supplier, rose 6 percent to 232 million SME.

South Korea was once again the only top 10 supplier that posted a decline in imports for March, with shipments falling 16 percent to 126 million SME, driven mostly by declines in filament yarns, knit fabric and polyester fabric.

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

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