Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — The current textile-apparel import surge marked its first birthday in August, with another round of big increases, but the gains are expected to start tailing off.
According to figures released by the Commerce Department Tuesday, these imports jumped 17 percent against a year ago to 2.06 billion square meters equivalent in August, marking the 12th consecutive month of double-digit increases. However, shipments from China, one of the key suppliers, slowed markedly. This, together with the increasingly big numbers from a year ago, should mean smaller gains starting with the September figures to be released next month.
Overall, apparel and textile imports totaled 15 billion SME for the year to date through August, up 21.3 percent from a year ago; and for the 12 months ending in August, these shipments were 21.69 billion SME, up 19.8 percent from the year-ago period.
During August, apparel imports rose 11.9 percent to 1.05 billion SME. For the first eight months of the year, they were up 16.8 percent to 7.38 billion SME. For the 12 months through August, they rose 16 percent to 10.72 billion SME.
Textile imports jumped 22.9 percent in August to 1.01 billion SME. They rose 25.9 percent for the first eight months to 7.62 billion SME and were up 23.6 percent to 10.97 billion SME for the 12 months.
Though imports are not about to go in the tank, the rate of increases likely will moderate, said Donald Foote, director of the agreements division within Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel, who looks to China’s trade as a bellwether of future trends.
Steep declines in its shipments here from late 1995 through the first half of last year mirrored a period when imports fell month after month, said Foote. Beginning last fall, China’s apparel and textile exports here rose sharply and the overall import numbers appeared to march in lockstep through August. It’s likely not coincidental, Foote said, that during August, Chinese imports rose just 10 percent and the rate of overall import increases fell to less than 20 percent for the first time since January.
China’s trade already has just about hit the quota wall, Foote said, noting that two key categories — men’s and boys’ and women’s and girls’ cotton knit shirts, and men’s and boys’ wool coats — are embargoed and another 22 were close to their limits, too, by this week. China is the U.S.’s second-ranking foreign supplier of apparel and textiles.
For the month it shipped 205 million SME of apparel and textiles here. Against the 10 percent gain in August, China’s shipments for the year to date are up 46.2 percent to 1.46 billion SME.
But even a swift downturn in China’s exports here is unlikely to mean that overall textile-apparel imports will decline. Roughly one-third of all such imports originate from Mexico and Canada, which have a free trade pact with the U.S., and the Caribbean Basin nations, which effectively have no quotas for many key apparel products.
With no import restraints, the Quick Response benefits of sourcing from these nations and U.S. makers’ investments in producing in Mexico and the Caribbean, it is probable shipments from there will grow.
Mexico remains the U.S.’s largest source for imported apparel and textiles. In August it shipped 278 million SME here, up 34.5 percent from a year ago, and for the first eight months of this year, its exports here of apparel and textiles totaled 534.1 million SME, up 38.8 percent from the same period last year.
Canada’s shipments to the U.S. during August — mainly textiles — jumped 23.1 percent to 205 million SME, and for the year to date they were up 15.3 percent to 1.34 billion SME. Canada is the U.S.’s third-leading source of imported textile and apparel products.
The Caribbean’s makers exported 250 million SME, mainly apparel, here during August, which was up 17.9 percent from a year ago. For the eight months through August, these shipments jumped by 26 percent to 1.91 billion SME.
Of the Caribbean nations, three account for more than 68 percent of the apparel shipped from the region to the U.S. The Dominican Republic is the U.S.’s third-leading foreign apparel supplier, shipping 505 million SME here during the first eight months of this year.

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