Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — U.S apparel and textile imports in March increased 17.4 percent from year-ago level — the eighth consecutive month of double-digit increases — with yarn shipments again helping to fuel the growth, the Commerce Department reported Friday.
Apparel and textile imports in March amounted to 2.8 billion square meters equivalent (SME). For the first quarter of the year, shipments were up 17.9 percent to 7.82 billion SME against the first quarter last year.
During March, textile imports alone increased 16.7 percent to 143 billion SME against March 1999, which included a 29 percent jump in yarn shipments. In January and February, yarn imports surged by 47.3 percent and 38.4 percent, respectively.
For the first quarter, textile shipments were up 21 percent, buoyed by a 38 percent jump in yarn imports.
Charles Bremmer, director of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said the continued increase in yarn imports can be blamed, in part, on global overcapacity of cotton spun yarns. “We are the world’s dumping ground,” Bremmer said.
However, Bremmer said an increase in filament yarn imports from NAFTA trading partners Mexico and Canada — which comprise about half the U.S. filament imports — is also contributing to the yarn import surge. Filament yarn imports for the quarter were up 61 percent from Mexico and 20 percent from Canada, he said.
Meanwhile, apparel imports in March increased 18.2 percent over the year and gained 14.6 percent in the quarter.
The top four apparel import countries during the quarter were Mexico, El Salvador, Bangladesh and Honduras, accounting for a 45 percent share of the first quarter import growth, according to an analysis by Donald Foote, agreements division director of the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.
Six other countries combined to account for 26 percent of the apparel import growth. They were Thailand, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Guatemala, Canada and Cambodia, according to the analysis.
Imports from the U.S.’s number two apparel supplier, Honduras, alone increased 23.29 percent, a faster pace than the number-one supplier, Mexico, which grew at a 12 percent rate. Shipments from China, the third largest apparel supplier, increased 0.45 percent during the quarter.
Julia Hughes, a vice president with the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said the import report reflects how Mexico and Caribbean Basin countries, operating under special trade breaks, are thriving as major shippers of textiles and apparel.
She discounted the significance of the surge in imports during March from countries like Bangladesh, up almost 300 percent, and Pakistan, up almost 500 percent.
The growth in imports from Pakistan was largely due to cotton yarns, rags, knit sheets and pillowcases, while Bangladesh’s increase came from various apparel categories. Pakistan is the third- largest textile supplier to the U.S. and Bangladesh ranks sixth as an apparel supplier.
“Other countries’ imports are growing, but they’re not growing as fast as the NAFTA countries and Caribbean Basin countries,” she said.