Byline: Jim Ostroff

WASHINGTON — American apparel and textile imports soared 32 percent in May to set a new record, propelled by vastly higher shipments from America’s free trade partners, as well as China, Pakistan and several other Asian nations, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
Led by sharply higher imports of yarns and fabrics, overall foreign sourcing reached 2.795 billion square meters equivalent in May, eclipsing March’s record of 2.79 billion SME. Commerce statisticians had to go back to August 1986 — when imports skyrocketed 35.1 percent — to find a month when the increase exceeded May’s.
During the first five months of this year, apparel and textile imports jumped by 20 percent to 13.09 billion SME. For the year that ended in May, they were up 15.2 percent to 30.8 billion SME.
Textile imports leaped 36.1 percent in May to 1.53 billion SME. Within this sector, imports of yarn and fabric soared 34.4 percent and 33.8 percent, respectively, while imports of a product group that includes luggage and household items jumped 39.8 percent.
For the first five months of this year, textile imports rose 22.8 percent to 6.93 billion SME and were up 18 percent for the year ending in May to 15.8 billion SME.
Apparel imports jumped 27.4 percent in May to 1.26 billion SME and they rose 17 percent for the year to date to 6.16 billion SME. For the year that ended in May, apparel imports rose 12.4 percent to 15 billion SME.
An analysis of the import data by Donald Foote, director of the agreements division with Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel, indicates that the lion’s share of May’s import surge was due to large shipment increases by U.S. NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada, along with China, Pakistan, Thailand and Turkey.
Many of these increases were enormous during May. Mexico’s exports of nylon and polyester filament yarn soared 88 percent to 29.6 million SME and shipments of man-made fiber blankets, quilts and comforters skyrocketed 102 percent to 30.9 million SME. U.S. imports of Mexican-made man-made fiber men’s and boys’ knit shirts jumped by 58 percent in May to 20.8 million SME.
Mexico is the U.S.’s largest supplier of imported apparel and textiles. Its shipments here of these products jumped 38.6 percent in May to 431 million SME.
Canada, the U.S.’s second-largest supplier of imported textiles and apparel, saw its shipments here rise 15.2 percent in May to 280 million SME. U.S.-bound Canadian exports of carded cotton yarn soared 41 percent to 12.9 million SME; shipments of polyester and nylon spun yarn jumped 84 percent to 11.6 million SME and cotton and man-made fiber knit fabric exports here rose 27 percent to 55.2 million SME during the month.
China retained its number three ranking in May, shipping 196 million SME of apparel and textiles to the U.S. China posted some enormous export increases during May that were particularly eye-catching, since these gains were computed against already-large bases. For example, for the month, China’s exports here of cotton printcloth fabric skyrocketed 118 percent to 18.6 million SME.
Pakistan, the fourth-ranked supplier, racked up a nearly 64 percent gain in apparel and textile shipments to the U.S. in May, to 165 million SME, due to some extraordinary increases in exports here of a few products.
From the importer perspective, the tidal wave of apparel sourcing could reflect “a pattern of earlier shipping for the holiday season,” which traditionally is highest during June and July, said Julia Hughes, Washington vice president for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. Hughes speculated that some importers may have stepped up their sourcing from China out of concern that quotas will fill early.
Charles Bremer, director of international trade for the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, has a different take on May’s import surge in textiles, stating “most of the yarn imported into the U.S. is imported by the Mexican and Canadian affiliates of fiber producers+, and in particular, [U.S.] knitting mills that are not vertically integrated and therefore must import the yarn they spin.”

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