Byline: Kristi Ellis

WASHINGTON — Total textile and apparel imports declined by 0.1 percent in January, with an increase in textile imports, particularly from China and Pakistan, offsetting a decrease in apparel imports, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.
For the month, apparel imports fell by 4.7 percent against January 2001, marking the sixth straight monthly decrease, according to Donald Foote, director of the agreements division of Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel. But textile imports offset that decrease and rose by 4.3 percent in January.
Imports from the Far East reflected shipments from last November and December, which take six to eight weeks on average to reach U.S. ports, but were counted in the January totals.
“It may indicate that stores are not restocking and inventories are still at levels that they don’t need to be restocking,” said Charles McMillion, chief economist with MBG Information Services.
He said the January figures could also represent decisions made in November and December by importers and retailers who expected the economy to be weaker than it turned out to be.
For the year-over-year, total apparel and textile imports decreased from 2.845 billion square meters equivalent to 2.841 billion SME. Apparel imports dropped to 1.325 billion SME, while textile imports rose to 1.516 billion, according to Commerce.
“For the first time since last April, Mexico’s volume decrease [in January of 9.1 percent] was surpassed by increases in imports from China and Pakistan, whose resurgent growth was larger than Mexico’s decline,” Foote said.
Total textile and apparel imports from China shot up 25.1 percent in January against January 2001, while Pakistan posted an 18.83 percent rise in total trade.
In textiles alone, imports from China surged 51 percent in January over a year ago. China’s textile import growth was concentrated in cotton printcloth, cotton handbags, home furnishings and hats, said Foote. Pakistan’s textile growth — an gain of 24 percent in January — was in man-made fiber sheets and cotton sheetings.
Charles Bremer, director of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, attributed the overall increase in textile imports, as well as the increase of textile imports from China, to goods being released from embargo. But McMillion said it could be a forewarning of things to come.
“The companies that rushed off to Mexico are going to have a hard time because Mexico [with a strong peso] cannot compete with Asia,” McMillion said.
Mexico’s declines were in man-made fiber filament yarn, cotton trousers and men’s knit shirts.
On the apparel side, imports from Mexico, Hong Kong and Bangladesh combined for 86 percent of the total January decrease, Foote said. All three countries posted apparel import declines in the range of 13 to 16 percent.
“Declines in apparel imports were not surprising at all because of the bad conditions at retail,” said Bremer. “It will be a few more months before people are out buying stuff again.”
McMillion said: “In the next couple of months, imports may pick up, although most companies are still pretty cautious going forward.”

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