Byline: Kristi Ellis

WASHINGTON — Total apparel and textile imports in February increased for the first time in 13 months by 7.9 percent, driven largely by a 17.4 percent increase in textile imports, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
Apparel imports fell by 1.4 percent, marking the seventh straight monthly decline that began last August, according to Donald Foote, director of the agreements division of Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel.
“Textile imports have come back strong,” said Foote. “February is a real turnaround from what we had experienced and there is a clear change in the trade pattern.”
The surge in textile imports was pushed by fabric, which increased by 23 percent, and made-up and miscellaneous products, which increased by 20 percent, Foote said.
On a product basis, there were four categories primarily involved in February’s textile import growth: nonwoven fabric, man-made fiber furnishing, other cotton textiles (various towels, kitchen linens, tablecloths and napkins) and specialty fabrics, such as coated fabric and laminates.
For the year-to-date, textile and apparel imports increased 3.6 percent from 5.31 billion square meters equivalent to 5.5 billion SME. Apparel imports dropped 3.1 percent for the year-to-date to 2.55 billion SME, while textile imports rose 10.3 percent to 2.49 billion SME.
“The decline in apparel imports is all predicated on very soft economy and bad retail sell-through,” said Charles Bremer, director of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. “We have an enormous increase in fabric imports because there is still a very high level of demand for fabric in this country, but unfortunately, many domestic mills who make those fabrics have been driven out of business.”
Natalie Hanson, director of trade policy at International Development Systems, said the overall picture of imports is the “same snapshot we’ve seen for months,” with most growth stagnating with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa, which posted a 27 percent import growth rate for the year-to-date.
Five countries accounted for February’s textile surge: China, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and Pakistan. South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and Pakistan all posted growth rates exceeding 60 percent and China recorded an import growth rate of over 80 percent, according to Foote.
For the month, apparel and textile imports from Mexico, the top supplier to the U.S., fell 4.5 percent against February 2001, while imports from Canada fell 1.7 percent. Meanwhile, apparel and textile imports from China skyrocketed by 62.5 percent.
As for Pakistan, imports were up 13.5 percent in February against February 2001. For the year-to-date, imports from Pakistan increased 16.3 percent.
“Pakistan’s growth has never declined,” claimed Foote. “It continues to be strong.”
The Pakistani government asked the U.S. for duty and quota relief on apparel and textiles in return for its cooperation in the war in Afghanistan and for what they claimed was a 40 percent drop-off in orders. The U.S. offered Pakistan a package but it fell far short of what the Pakistanis were seeking.
The import figures in February still didn’t support the Pakistanis’ claims. Hanson said the overall increase in textile imports from Pakistan was due to goods being released from embargo. The imports from Pakistan in February did not reflect new business, she said.
“It doesn’t indicate there has not been a drop-off in business,” claimed Hanson. “By the time U.S. data reflects January and February orders in Pakistan, I don’t imagine the import increases will be sustained.”
Bremer disputed the argument that the February imports from Pakistan were just goods released from embargo.
“This stuff was put on the boat well after the beginning of the year,” said Bremer, who has claimed in the past the Pakistanis were exaggerating to win concessions from the U.S.

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