WASHINGTON — China bumped up its share of the entire U.S. apparel and textile import market to 18.8 percent in the first nine months of the year as it continued to squeeze many other foreign suppliers, a Commerce Department report revealed Thursday.

This story first appeared in the November 14, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Imports of apparel and textiles from China soared 71.5 percent in the first nine months of the year to 5.9 billion square meters equivalent while imports from Mexico, which has been losing market share to China for the past year, fell 10.6 percent to 2.9 billion SME during the same period.

Mexico, currently the number-two supplier of apparel and textiles, controls 9.4 percent of the U.S. import market on a year-to-date basis. That’s half China’s current market share.

Total apparel and textile imports rose 8.2 percent in September against September 2002 to 3.8 billion SME, according to Commerce. Imports of textiles rose 9.5 percent while imports of apparel rose 6.9 percent.

While total apparel and textile imports increased by 290 million SME for the month of September versus a year ago, imports from China increased by 282 million SME, according to Ross Arnold, acting director of the agreements division of Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

“This figure resulted in a 52 percent increase for China over September 2002 and was equivalent to 97 percent of the total U.S. textile and apparel increase for the month,” said Arnold.

China’s import growth continued to be concentrated in product categories no longer restricted by quotas, primarily nonapparel products. The big growth categories from China include luggage, handbags, blankets, travel rugs, tents and man-made fiber bags.

The most closely watched import categories from China are bras, dressing gowns and robes and knit fabric. A broad coalition of textile and fiber groups is pressing the U.S. to reimpose quotas on these three categories under a special textile safeguard mechanism that was part of the bilateral U.S.-China agreement that paved the way for China’s entry to the World Trade Organization. The government is expected to issue a precedent-setting decision on Monday.

Imports of bras from China rose 70.7 percent in the first nine months of the year, and China now controls 34 percent of this U.S. import market on an annual basis. Knit fabric imports rose 39.2 percent, giving China a 6.5 percent share while imports of dressing gowns and robes soared 119 percent, giving China a 37 percent share.

“China is responsible for 80 percent of the world’s increase in textile and apparel imports for the first nine months of the year,” said Charles Bremer, vice president of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. “What are other countries doing? They are losing share to China.”

Other countries also posted big increases in the first nine months of the year, including Vietnam, which posted a 217 percent increase, primarily in cotton trousers and shorts and knit shirts and blouses.

Imports from India rose 9.4 percent, primarily in nonapparel categories, while imports from Honduras rose 11.1 percent, primarily in knit shirts, cotton underwear and women’s cotton trousers.

However, imports from Thailand fell 16.7 percent.

“There are plenty of countries that are competitive with China, maybe not as in as many products, but there are a lot of countries that can compete,” said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel.

Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association pointed out: “U.S. apparel imports from Central America continued to increase at a strong rate.”

Imports of apparel from the five Central American nations rose 8.3 percent for the nine months.

Bremer challenged that assessment and claimed there is “no comparison” between a 9.4 percent increase in imports from India and a 71.5 percent increase in imports from China.

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