Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — A continuing surge in shipments from China, combined with Mexico’s ongoing robust growth as a major shipper, boosted U.S. imports of textiles and apparel 16.1 percent in February compared with a year ago. It was the sixth consecutive month of double-digit growth.
Combined textile and apparel imports amounted to 1.68 billion square meters equivalent in February. For the first two months of the year, they were up 17.6 percent to 3.52 billion SME, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. However, for the year ended in February, total imports rose 7.1 percent to 19.59 billion SME, due to a string of only minuscule increases and some steep decreases during 1996’s first half.
Apparel imports in February rose 9.8 percent against a year ago to 839.1 million SME. For the year to date, they were up 11.1 percent to 1.72 billion SME and increased 5.9 percent to 9.83 billion SME for the year ending February.
Textile imports soared 23.3 percent in February against February 1996 to 840 million SME. For the first two months of 1997, they jumped 24.5 percent to 1.8 billion SME, and for the 12 months through February they were up 8.3 percent to 9.76 billion SME.
Within the big gains for textiles, imports of yarn used by U.S. textile mills soared 32.9 percent and imports of fabrics, used by apparel makers, jumped 26.1 percent from February 1996 levels. Together, yarns and fabrics make up almost 70 percent of the products in the textile import group.
The lion’s share of the increase in textile shipments here during February came from the U.S.’s four leading suppliers: Canada, Mexico, China and Taiwan.
On the apparel side, shipments by Mexico, China and Honduras accounted for about 75 percent of February’s increase. Mexico, which remains the United States’ top supplier of imported apparel, shipped 106 million SMEs here during the month, up 37.1 percent from February 1996.
Increases were spread across many product categories, but standouts included women’s and girls’ cotton trousers and man-made fiber tights.
The increase in Chinese apparel shipments were attributable to about a score of products. For the month, China shipped 73 million SME of apparel, up 17.1 percent from a year ago, making it the U.S.’s second-leading supplier. Honduras, the fifth-largest apparel supplier, saw shipments to the U.S. rise 44.4 percent to 53 million SME. Virtually all of this increase was due to higher shipments of cotton and man-made fiber underwear.
In addition, the February report provided further evidence that the Caribbean Basin makers, as a whole, are again showing robust growth as apparel makers for the U.S. market. Collectively, they shipped 211 million SME of apparel to the U.S. in February, which was by far more than for any single country or even region. During February, CBI makers’ exports posted a 23 percent increase.

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