Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — U.S. apparel and textile imports soared 17.3 percent in January due largely to sharply higher shipments of textile products, lengthening the foreign sourcing surge to six consecutive months.
Overall, apparel and textile imports totaled 2.46 billion square-meters-equivalent in January and were just under 29 billion SME for the 12 months ended in January, up 11.3 percent from a year ago, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.
Imports of textiles during January were 1.32 billion SME, up a whopping 25.6 percent from the same month a year ago. For the year ended January, textile imports were 14.78 billion SME, up 13 percent.
Apparel imports rose 9 percent in January to 1.14 billion SME and they were up 9.6 percent for the 12 months ended January to 14.19 billion SME.
January’s overall, 17.3 percent import increase comes on the heels of a 17.2 percent hike for December and a 23.9 percent sourcing surge in November. These imports have been growing at double-digit percentage levels since August 1999, and some analysts have said it appears that overseas sourcing has entered yet another expansionist phase.
Apparel and textile imports rose at double-digit percentage levels for 23 out of 24 months from September 1997 through August 1998. This was followed by an 11-month period, in which import increases generally were modest, through August 1999 when they inched up just 4.1 percent. But unlike the earlier sourcing thrust, which was led largely by apparel, the current one is not being powered by apparel.
During January, when apparel imports rose 9 percent, key areas of the textile sector soared. Yarn imports jumped by 47.3 percent, and sourcing of made-ups and miscellaneous — including the likes of luggage and tote bags — jumped 27.7 percent.
In the same month, fabric imports rose 14.8 percent. Analysts who follow these trends said this indicates that U.S. textile firms are stepping up yarn imports considerably to make various fabrics, including industrial textiles, and the so-called made-ups, which also includes home furnishings, hats, tents and surgical gowns.
An analysis of the January import data shows the increases in the textile and apparel sectors were concentrated in a few select product groups and a few nations, according to Donald Foote, agreements division director with the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.
Eight product categories accounted for 80.2 percent of the import increase for textiles during January. For example, January imports of carded and cotton yarns skyrocketed 80 percent; man-made textured yarns soared 68.2 percent; specialty fabrics, which include tire cord and coated fabrics, jumped 33.6 percent; knit cotton and man-made fiber fabrics were up 21.7 percent, and cotton towels and linens rose 23.2 percent.
Six apparel product groups accounted for 93.2 percent of the sourcing growth in this sector during January. Offshore sourcing of men’s man-made fiber knit shirts skyrocketed 65.3 percent, imports of men’s man-made fiber trousers soared 45.7 percent and cotton underwear imports rose 16 percent.
Sourcing of men’s and women’s cotton trousers rose 13 percent in January, as did imports of men’s and women’s cotton knit tops. A so-called basket group of man-made fiber apparel, including hats, scarves, swimwear and vests, jumped 28.2 percent in the month.
Foote said that just seven foreign countries accounted for the majority of the textile import increase: Pakistan, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, China, Turkey and the Philippines.
Mexico also was the foremost contributor to the import surge in three apparel product groups. Its shipment here of men’s and women’s cotton knit shirts surged by 32 percent to 22 million SME in January, and its exports of men’s and women’s cotton trousers jumped 19 percent to 35.7 million SME. During the month, Mexican shipments here of men’s man-made fiber knit shirts skyrocketed 73 percent to 16.1 million SME.
El Salvador still is a smaller supplier of these apparel, but in January, as during the past year, makers in this country — where many U.S. companies have large operations — scored major export increases. Shipments to the U.S. of cotton underwear leaped by 80 percent to 18.7 million SME, and exports of men’s and women’s cotton knit shirts jumped 52 percent to 7.7 million SME. El Salvador’s exports here of men’s man-made fiber knit shirts registered explosive growth during January, up 551 percent to 2.9 million SME.
Such large and continuing increases in apparel, and now textile sourcing, “is no surprise” to Ken McCarthy, managing director of Economic Intelligence Co., a New York economic analysis firm that specializes in the trade.
“For a number of years now, there has been a continuing move of production costs to where it is cheaper to make these products in all stages of production,” McCarthy said.
The analyst said this offshore production shift has been “a trend in the apparel industry for several years, and now we’re seeing a move down the chain to the textile components,” such as yarns.

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