The port of Hong Kong.

China surpassed the rest of the world in apparel and textile import growth to the U.S. in July, as pressure intensifies for it to curb its shipments.

WASHINGTON — China surpassed the rest of the world in apparel and textile import growth in July, and the first seven months of the year, even as it comes under intensifying pressure to curb shipments to the U.S.

This story first appeared in the September 11, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

China’s 36.2 percent apparel and textile import gain in the month — to 1.09 billion square meters equivalent — against July 2003 far outpaced the overall import growth of 4.56 percent to 4.2 million SME for the twin categories, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. China’s July increase came overwhelmingly in categories of textiles and “made-ups,” such as luggage and tents no longer under quota, as it has since 2002, said Ross Arnold, acting director of the Agreements Division of the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

Imports of textiles rose 10.6 percent in July to 2.3 billion SME, while imports of apparel fell 2.2 percent for the month to 1.85 billion SME.

For the year, imports of textiles and apparel from China jumped 47 percent to 6.46 billion SME, compared with a 10.2 percent increase to 26.6 billion SME in those categories from all countries. Several nations, including Pakistan, India and South Korea, also continued to show strong import penetration in the U.S., reflecting what many experts say will be the consolidation of sourcing in a post-quota world. Imports in July rose 21.7 percent from India, 14.5 percent from Pakistan and 12.7 percent from South Korea, primarily in textile and made-up categories.

Still, many other suppliers had major decreases in apparel and textile imports for the month: Russia posted a 53.2 percent decline, Egypt had a loss of 40.1 percent, Italy fell 28.5 percent, the Philippines decreased 19.7 percent, Vietnam declined 16.9 percent and Canada dropped 10.3 percent.

The U.S. and 146 other member nations of the World Trade Organization are set to eliminate quotas on apparel and textiles on Jan. 1. The prospect of China dominating global trade in the sectors has prompted the U.S. textile industry to pressure the Bush administration to curb that growth.

Textile associations, given the green light by the Bush administration to file safeguard quota petitions against China based on threat of market disruption, said they will do so by the month’s end. However, a Chinese trade official said last week the country would not bow to U.S. pressures to extend import limits, and administration trade officials are in China to discuss the issue.

China’s share of apparel and textile imports to the U.S. stands at 23.2 percent for the year ended July 30, while Mexico, the second-largest supplier to the U.S., holds a 9 percent share.

“China’s growth every month has been more than any other country,” Arnold said. “Overall, countries are not keeping pace with China as China keeps surging ahead.”

A spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, one of the textile associations preparing safeguard petitions against China, said, “It is a continuing trend we are seeing out there. No one should be surprised. It’s the inexorable march by China to a monopolization of U.S. market share.”

Importers and retailers are opposed to an extension of quotas on key Chinese apparel and textile products.

Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “If you promote sanctions on China, you are promoting trade in Asia and not in Central America,” which is the textile industry’s largest export market.

Natalie Hanson, director of trade policy at International Development Systems, a trade research firm, said most of China’s increase in trade was in products no longer under quota, while the trade subjected to restrictions was generally flat.