Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — Weak retail and manufacturing demand emphatically caught up with textile and apparel imports in December.
Textile imports in the month plunged 14.1 percent against a year ago to 614.5 million square meters equivalent, and apparel imports were off 4.4 percent to 609.5 million SME, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. In total, textile-apparel imports dropped 9.6 percent for the month. The figures also produced the first quarterly import decline in five years.
For all of 1995, textile imports rose just 2.3 percent against 1994 to 9.06 billion SME, and apparel imports were up 9.9 percent to 9.25 billion SME. Combined, the figure was a 6 percent gain.
The past year also produced significant changes in long-term trading patterns.
“The shift in trade to the Western Hemisphere countries accelerated at the expense of the major Far Eastern suppliers as well as Europeans,” said Donald Foote, director of the agreements division in Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.
“Imports from all of our leading Far Eastern suppliers were down substantially, with the still largest supplier, China, down 13 percent in 1995, as opposed to a 3 percent decline in 1994,” Foote said.
He noted the growth rate for imports from Mexico nearly doubled to 59 percent, while the rate for the Caribbean Basin Initiative countries was 22 percent versus 15 percent in 1994.
In analyzing last year’s trends, he said relatively large percentage first-half increases in textile and apparel sourcing were offset by steep declines in the second half. Apparel imports, in particular, were tempered by an 18.2 percent dive in imports of silk and ramie fiber apparel during 1995.
Despite the second-half drop, textile apparel imports set a record for a calendar year at 18.3 billion SME, but this was below the all-time 12-month record of nearly 18.5 billion SME set for the 12 months ended last October.
Foote also noted that during the fourth quarter of 1995, textile and apparel imports combined declined about 2 percent to about 4.2 billion SME. This marked the first quarterly decline in these imports since January-to-March 1991, when they were off 4.7 percent.
Analyzing the East-to-West import shift, Foote said imports from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea were off, mainly due to a decline in U.S. imports of cotton print cloth, cotton sheets, men’s and women’s pants of various fabrics and hats.
China still remained the U.S.’s leading apparel supplier in 1995, shipping 862 million SME, down 7.7 percent from a year ago. Hong Kong hung on to second place with 821 million SME, down 5 percent from a year earlier. Mexico was the U.S.’s third-largest foreign apparel supplier, shipping 774 million SME, up almost 61 percent, followed by the Dominican Republic with 632 million SME, up 15.8 percent for the year.
Taiwan was in fifth place with 598 million SME of apparel, down 8 percent, followed by Bangladesh with 519 million SME, up 20.7 percent; the Philippines with 465 million SME, up 13.2 percent, and Korea with 343 million SME, down 16.4 percent.
On the textile side, Canada remained the leading foreign shipper, with 1.4 billion SME, up 18.1 percent in 1995 from a year earlier, followed by China with 910 million SME, down 17.9 percent. Mexico was in third place, shipping 776 million SME, up 56.8 percent.
Foote said most of Mexico’s most spectacular gains in shipments were in apparel categories. Its exports of men’s and women’s cotton pants jumped 49 percent to 178.9 million SME in 1995, while its shipments of man-made fiber knit shirts and blouses soared 75 percent to 115.1 million SME.
Industry analysts cited several factors for the sourcing shifts and volume declines.
“Fabric imports were off, but this reflects the fact that demand for apparel fabrics here is declining, which isn’t surprising when you see employment in the U.S. apparel industry down by 100,000 workers last year,” said Carl Priestland, the American Apparel Manufacturers Association’s chief economist.
Jim Langlois, president of the importer-oriented National Apparel and Textile Association, added, “For China, in particular, 1995 was a tough year because of chronic cotton shortages, which caused some importers for quality reasons to look elsewhere.”
Both Priestland and Langlois agreed apparel makers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea are shifting production to value-added garments, allowing other nations’ manufacturers to capture an increasing portion of this business. Priestland noted China’s apparel production costs are rising at a time when the growth of its quotas is minimal.
— Fairchild News Service

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