WASHINGTON — Apparel imports from China, Vietnam and India increased in May despite the continuing overall decline of combined textile and apparel shipments to the U.S.

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel said Friday that shipments of apparel from China increased 8.9 percent to 592 million square meter equivalents in May compared with a year earlier. Shipments from Vietnam rose 2 percent to 120 million SME, and imports from India spiked 17.1 percent to 83 million SME. Combined shipments of textiles and apparel to the U.S. from all trading partners declined 11.5 percent to 3.8 billion SME in 12-month comparisons. Apparel imports fell 9.2 percent to 1.6 billion SME in May, and textile shipments decreased 13.1 percent to 2.2 billion SME. Apparel and textile imports have been dropping in year-over-year comparisons for 13 consecutive months, the Commerce Department office said.

Year-to-date apparel and textile shipments dropped 11.1 percent to 17.9 billion SME, the lowest level for the five-month period since 2005.

China’s overall shipments of textiles and apparel in May declined 5.3 percent to 1.7 billion SME, dragged down by a double-digit drop in textile imports.

Vietnam continued to show overall growth. Imports of textiles and apparel grew 27.2 percent to 176 million SME for the month. Bangladesh increased shipments 2.5 percent to 145 million SME. Vietnam and Bangladesh were the only countries in the top 10 to show higher import levels.

“Those are still the go-to countries,” said Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “If you’re talking about where apparel executives are sourcing from, if they are going to expand, you’re looking at what we should call the big three: China, Vietnam and Bangladesh.”

Six of the top 10 apparel and textile supplier countries reported declines in imports of 15 percent or greater in May, including Mexico, Canada, Honduras, Indonesia, Pakistan and South Korea.

May imports from Honduras, where a military coup on June 28 created turmoil, dropped 15.7 percent to 92 million SME. Apparel executives have said they are monitoring the situation, but so far, production has been unaffected. If unrest and political uncertainty continues in Honduras, a member of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, import levels from the area could drop further. Data about shipments for the period after the coup was not yet available.

Seven industry associations, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Council of Textile Organizations, U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation, sent a letter to President Obama on July 9 urging him to keep apparel and textile interests in the region in mind in dealing with the situation in Honduras.

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

The nation’s trade gap narrowed to $26 billion in May from $28.8 billion in April. The improvement came primarily from petroleum. Exports also showed a “welcome improvement,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist, IHS Global Insight.

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