WASHINGTON — Vietnam posted the largest increase in apparel imports to the U.S. in September compared with a year earlier, as it continued to take business away from other Asian countries such as Indonesia, which posted a double-digit decline, while Bangladesh showed signs of a slowdown in production, a report from the U.S. Commerce Department showed Thursday.

Apparel imports from Vietnam, the second-largest supplier to the U.S., rose 21.6 percent to 206 million square meter equivalents in September compared with September 2012. Indonesia, the fourth-largest apparel supplier to the U.S., posted a 17.1 percent decline in apparel imports to 73 million SME. China, the top supplier of apparel to the U.S., posted a 1.3 percent gain to 1.1 billion SME in the month.

Combined shipments of textiles and apparel from the world to the U.S. rose 5.6 percent to 5.1 billion SME year-over-year. Total apparel imports were up 2 percent to 2.3 billion SME, while textile imports rose 9 percent to 2.7 billion SME.

“Overall apparel import growth used to come from China and Bangladesh, but today Vietnam is the main driver,” said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “I don’t think you will see that trend abate in the short term.”

Herman said Vietnam is taking some business from China, though it is also pulling business from countries like Indonesia, as well.

“We are starting to see a slowdown in Indonesia,” Herman said. “There has been a lot of worker unrest leading up to the [implementation] of a higher minimum wage at the beginning of October and I think people are starting to step back a little from Indonesia as a result.”

The pace of growth in apparel imports from Bangladesh, beset by two apparel factory tragedies in the past year that claimed the lives of more than 1,230 workers, slowed in September. Apparel imports rose 2.2 percent to 124 million SME. This followed increases in the prior five months that ranged from 6.3 percent to 18.6 percent. Herman attributed the slowdown in part to some businesses pulling out after the tragedies to reduce their risks.

“I think into the fall and into early next year, we will continue to see apparel imports from Bangladesh flatten out,” Herman added.

The overall U.S. trade deficit widened to $41.8 billion from $38.7 billion in August, driven primarily by a “surge” in imports of cell phones and motor vehicles, according to Michael Montgomery, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.

Boosting exports, trade and U.S. manufacturing topped Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s priority list in the “Open for Business” agenda she outlined on Thursday. Pritzker said her agency will revitalize President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which appears not to be on track to meet his goal of doubling exports by the end of 2014; enhance and expand foreign investment as part of the SelectUSA campaign, and oversee efforts to boost U.S.

manufacturing through initiatives such as the “National Network for Manufacturing Innovation,” a network of hubs owned and operated by universities and corporations that will collaborate on applied research, conducting skills training and accelerating new technologies in the market.

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