SLOWING ECONOMY CURBS IMPORTS
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — While the Commerce Department on Wednesday reported apparel and textile imports last year posted double-digit increases for the fourth consecutive year, they ended 2000 on a down note, which industry analysts said is another sign of a slowing U.S. retail apparel market.
For 2000, textile and apparel imports surged 14.8 percent against 1999, to 32.86 square meters equivalent. But in December, imports in the twin industries fell 0.2 percent against year-ago levels to 2.34 million SMEs. The December dip was the first year-over-year decline since June 1996, when apparel and textile imports fell 4.2 percent.
“This is a welcomed respite, of course,” is how Charles Bremmer, director of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, described the December downturn in imports.
However, Bremmer said the dip in imports also brings more bad news for domestic mills by underscoring the downturn in apparel buying by retailers, which is causing a severe contraction in orders for domestic textiles and apparel.
U.S. textile shipments have declined for three consecutive years, the industry’s longest downturn. For the last half of 2000, new orders for textiles were down 5.2 percent below the same period in 1999.
“The domestic textile industry is in a recession,” Bremmer said.
Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said she doesn’t expect imports to continue to ebb.
While acknowledging the softness of the retail market as contributing to the import downturn, Hughes said the weakness in December imports could reflect, in part, a delay in retailers shipping spring merchandise.
“I don’t think this necessarily means there’s going to be any kind of downward trend,” Hughes said.
She also noted that there was a 17 percent drop in yarn imports in December, which she said could reflect U.S. mills using more U.S.-made yarn in order to qualify for new duty-free trade benefits in the Caribbean Basin.
Individually, textile imports in December inched up 0.4 percent to 1.22 million SMEs against December 1999. Apparel imports declined 0.8 percent for the period, to 1.12 million SMEs.
For calendar year 2000, foreign countries shipped 16.83 million SMEs in textiles to the U.S., an increase of 16 percent against 1999. Apparel imports last year increased 13.7 percent, to 16.04 million SMEs.
Three countries — Mexico, Pakistan and Canada — accounted for one third of the total import growth last year. Nine others — Bangladesh, Thailand, China, Turkey, Italy, Indonesia, Israel, El Salvador and Hong Kong — accounted for another third.
Mexico and Bangladesh accounted for 21 percent of the total growth in apparel imports, while Mexico, Pakistan and Canada were responsible for 47 percent of the textile import growth.
Donald Foote, director of the Agreements Division at Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel, called the collective apparel and textile import decline in December a “marked falloff” that was spread across almost all 19 large suppliers.
The December decline includes Mexico, the largest supplier to the U.S. of imported apparel and textiles, which reduced shipments by 7.5 percent. However, for all of 2000, Mexico’s textile and apparel shipments increased 14.6 percent.
Bucking the December decline among foreign suppliers that otherwise posted strong growth in shipments for all of 2000 were Bangladesh and Indonesia. In December, Bangladesh posted a 22.7 percent increase in shipments from year-ago levels and for the year saw shipments increase 24.2 percent. The categories with the biggest import growth from Bangladesh were hats, vests, men’s swimwear and woven shirts.
Indonesia’s December shipments to the U.S. increased 29 percent and, for the year, jumped 16 percent. Growth categories from Indonesia were textile bags, poplin and broadcloth fabric and non-woven fabric.
For 2000, Foote said there were six products that accounted for 73 percent of all textile import growth.
They were nonwoven fabric, other manmade fiber products (mostly textile bags), manmade fiber furnishings (mostly blankets, quilts, comforters and curtains), cotton yarn, specialty fabric and other cotton products (mainly towels, kitchen linens and tablecloths).
Foote said five apparel products accounted for a little more than half of all import growth. These products were manmade fiber apparel (mostly headwear, swimwear and vests), cotton trousers, cotton knit shirts and blouses, manmade fiber trousers and infants’ wear.