Byline: Carol Emert

WASHINGTON — With the bargain-basement peso kicking in, apparel imports from Mexico jumped 89.2 percent in January against a year ago, according to Commerce Department data released Wednesday.
The Mexican rise was a strong contributor to the overall January hike in textile and apparel imports, up 13.1 percent compared with January 1994.
At the same time, shipments from China, still the number one shipper of textiles and apparel to the U.S., fell sharply in January, as they bumped up against quota ceilings.
The drop in Chinese imports, which continues a trend seen in last year’s fourth quarter, “is an example of what the quota program is designed to do — to prevent shipments that disrupt the domestic market,” said Donald Foote, director of Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel agreements division. “It doesn’t work perfectly, but it works,” he said.
But Carl Priestland, chief economist with the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, was more circumspect about the news.
“One month’s trends are not very indicative of what is happening,” he said. “It’s possible we will see more imports from China in coming months when they get [1995] quota.”
Mexico’s strong apparel growth is due in part to December’s peso devaluation, which lowered labor costs there by about 40 percent, said Clinton Stack, president of International Development Systems Inc., Washington, a consulting firm that analyzes trade data.
Most Mexican apparel imports are made of U.S. components that are assembled in maquiladora plants, Stack noted.
Apparel imports overall grew 18.7 percent in January to 773 million square meters equivalent from 652 million SME in January 1994, while textile imports rose 8 percent, reaching 776 million SME from 718 million, Commerce said. Total textile and apparel imports tallied 1.55 billion SME in January, up from 1.37 billion SME in January 1994. The January gain of 13.1 percent follows a 9.08 percent rise in these imports for all of 1994.
In addition to Mexico, strong import growth was seen in January from Caribbean Basin Initiative countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador and Jamaica; South Asian countries, which include India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal; and the ASEAN group — the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
Imports from China dropped 26.2 percent against January 1994 to 139 million SME from 189 million SME. Apparel shipments fell 10.7 percent to 79 million SME, while textiles declined 39.7 percent to 61 million SME.
Three categories, cotton printcloth, other cotton textiles and silk and ramie luggage, accounted for the bulk of China’s January import decline. Foote said the drop was caused by embargoes imposed on those goods in 1994 when their export quotas were filled. More quota became available Jan. 1, but goods shipped then will not show up until February’s import data, he said.
Priestland said part of the decline in shipments of Chinese fabric may be due to the hesitancy of U.S. buyers, such as apparel makers, to purchase from a country whose shipments tend to be disrupted by embargoes.
Foote also blamed 1994 embargoes for a drop of 66.8 percent in category 847, silk blend and vegetal fiber men’s and women’s trousers, and a 40 percent decline in category 845, silk blend and vegetal fiber sweaters. A basket category made up mainly of woven cotton hats, category 359, dropped by more than 50 percent, also owing, at least in part, to embargoes, Foote said.
January’s textile-apparel imports in total from Mexico rose 70.5 percent to 90 million SME. The 89.2 percent hike in apparel pushed those shipments to 45 million SME, while textiles rose 55 percent, also to 45 million SME.
Stack said January’s figures look particularly strong because Mexican imports in January 1994 were slowed by confusion over provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect that month.
Of January 1995’s textile and apparel imports from Mexico, 93 percent were imported under the provisions of NAFTA, meaning that all materials used originated in the U.S., Canada or Mexico, according to Commerce.
The percentage of Mexican shipments imported under NAFTA has been steadily increasing since the agreement went into effect, and rose 82 percent January against January, Foote said.
Imports from ASEAN countries, which grew only 3.4 percent in all of 1994 against 1993, rose 26.3 percent in January compared to January 1994. In the shipments from the Philippines, for example, categories 636/336, cotton and man-made fiber dresses, grew 54 percent in January; category 348, women’s cotton trousers, grew 52 percent, and category 352, cotton underwear, grew 209 percent.
Foote attributed the growth in ASEAN imports overall to greater demand in U.S. markets and, in some cases, to displacement of embargoed Chinese goods.
Among CBI countries, textile and apparel imports rose 37.2 percent against January 1994. Imports from the Dominican Republic, for example included a 30.5 percent increase in category 347, jeans and trousers, and 89 percent growth in category 352, cotton underwear.
Imports from South Asian countries grew 36.6 percent January against January, with Bangladesh chalking up the largest growth — 50.7 percent. Strong categories from Bangladesh included 341, woven cotton blouses, which jumped 1,945 percent and category 359, woven cotton hats and other garments, which increased 261 percent.
Among fibers and yarns, the biggest turnaround was by cotton yarns. Imports grew 27.3 percent in January against January 1994, compared to a decline of 3.5 percent in all of 1994. Cotton fabric imports, on the other hand, declined 5 percent in January after falling 7.6 percent in all of 1994. — Fairchild News Service