WASHINGTON — Foreshadowing a post-quota world next year, China again dominated the U.S. apparel and textile import market in May and crushed other foreign suppliers, but several countries emerged as strong contenders.

This story first appeared in the July 14, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

India, Pakistan and South Korea also increased their share of the U.S. import market, primarily in textiles. To textile and apparel industry experts bracing for the elimination of global quotas on Jan. 1, the sourcing picture in May was a sign of things to come.

The statistics for China in May and for the first five months of the year saw the world’s most populous nation continue to outpace the rest of the world in apparel imports, while capitalizing on textile categories no longer under quota, according to the Commerce Department trade report released Tuesday.

China’s apparel imports, the majority of which are still under quota, rose 27.35 percent in May despite a total decrease of 5.1 percent in apparel coming into the U.S. from all countries. For the year, apparel imports from China rose 19.86 percent, while all apparel entering the country fell 1.42 percent.

Combined textile and apparel imports from China in the month jumped 47.54 percent to 970 million square meters equivalent. For the first five months of the year, combined imports from China increased 46.36 percent to 4.2 billion SME. China’s share of the U.S. apparel and textile import market now stands at 22 percent, based on the past 12 months of trade.

Textiles and “made-ups” such as luggage spurred the overall increase, as it has since 2002, according to Ross Arnold, acting director of the Agreements Division of the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

In May, textile and apparel from all foreign suppliers rose 8.9 percent to 3.69 billion SME against a year ago and increased 9.3 percent to 18.2 billion SME for the year to date. Imports of textiles rose 18.9 percent to 2.34 billion SME in May, while apparel imports fell 5.1 percent to 1.34 billion SME.

“Obviously, China is making vast inroads while still under quota in numerous categories,” said Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, a textile industry lobby group. “This is a harbinger of extremely difficult times to come.”

AMTAC is one of several apparel and textile associations calling for an emergency meeting of the World Trade Organization to discuss the negative impact of the elimination of global textile and apparel quotas. It was unclear at press time whether a high-level official from sub-Saharan Africa made a formal request for a WTO meeting, a critical step toward getting the issue on the agenda, at a meeting held by 90 of the poorest nations in Mauritius that ended Tuesday. Several trade sources claimed a formal request would be made at the meeting.

Meanwhile, imports from India rose 20.4 percent in May, while shipments from South Korea increased 17.5 percent and imports from Pakistan increased 7.2 percent.

The biggest import growth categories from all three countries were primarily textiles, largely in categories no longer under quota, according to Arnold.

The countries with the largest import declines were Bangladesh, which fell 17.1 percent; Russia, which declined 50 percent; Vietnam, down 16.8 percent, and Mexico, which dipped 2.7 percent.

In terms of regions, imports from Central America continued to decline, falling by 3.28 percent in the first five months of the year, prompting one association to reiterate its warning about a failure of Congress to pass a free-trade agreement with the five countries and the Dominican Republic this year.

“The reality is our companies are starting to speak with their feet,” said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

“They are looking at the possibility of getting a [Central American Free Trade Agreement] getting dimmer and dimmer,” and they are shifting their business to Asia.