WASHINGTON — China beat its competition again in April, as it continued to dominate textile imports to the U.S.

This story first appeared in the June 21, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In April alone, textile and apparel imports from China rose a whopping 107 percent, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported Thursday. Apparel imports from China rose 77 percent in the month, while textile imports rose 123 percent.

Economists and industry experts link the surges from China to the third stage of quota phaseout, which went into effect on Jan. 1.

“The dominant player in this year’s import surge is China, which is exploiting the advantage of the quota removal under the Agreement on Textiles & Clothing’s integration process,” said Donald Foote, director of the agreements division at Commerce’s Office of Textiles & Apparel.

By contrast, textile and apparel imports from Mexico (the number one supplier) and Canada (the number two supplier) to the U.S., rose 10.4 and 0.75 percent, respectively, in April, but each fell 3 percent for the first four months.

Meanwhile, a trade bill expanding duty-free apparel breaks to Andean-made garments hit yet another snag Thursday in Congress. House GOP leaders yanked from consideration a 191-page plan by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R., Calif.) that would dictate how the House should negotiate a compromise measure with the Senate.

The proposed, unprecedented dictate angered Democrats, even those backing the trade bill’s intent. The GOP needs Democrat support for passage of a final bill. No word on whether the Thomas plan will be scrapped, allowing unfettered negotiations to begin.

Worldwide, textile imports to the U.S. “mushroomed” 24.6 percent to 1.75 billion square meters equivalent in April, while apparel imports edged into the plus column with a 3.7 percent increase to 1.2 billion SME in the month.

For the year to date, all imports rose 5.2 percent, with textile imports gaining 13.7 percent and apparel imports decreasing 3.8 percent. Textile imports rose for the fourth straight month, while apparel imports broke the string of eight straight monthly declines dating back to August.

China accounted for 35 percent of April’s textile import surge, but also covered virtually all of the renewed growth in April’s apparel import growth, according to Foote.

“During the first four months of the year, our apparel imports from China were up 27 percent in the face of a 4 percent overall decline in total apparel imports,” said Foote.

India was the only country beside China to have a significant increase among the major suppliers of apparel. On the textile side, South Korea, Pakistan, India and Mexico also contributed to the double-digit import growth.

“China is annihilating everyone else,” said Charles Bremer, vice president of international trade at the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.

He pointed to man-made fiber luggage from China, which more than tripled for the first four months of the year. China also became the number one supplier in the category in April.

“It goes to show what will happen in 2005, which we are very concerned about,” Bremer said. “It’s a factor of product integration.”

Bremer also noted that ATMI might start collecting domestic production data on knit fabric to present as evidence to the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, which can make a determination on whether to reinstate quotas on certain Chinese imports if they prove to create market disruption.

He also is watching man-made fiber home furnishings, for which the Census Bureau releases quarterly domestic production data.

“In the meantime, we are suffering,” Bremer added.

Natalie Hanson, director of trade policy at International Development Systems, agreed that China has posted big import increases, but said it should be put into perspective.

“China has always been a leading supplier in apparel and luggage,” she said.

She also noted that Mexico and Canada still have a much bigger overall market share in the U.S. than China. In two of the textile categories where China had major import growth, Hanson pointed out that the country still has a small market share.

For instance, China’s market share of knit fabrics is 1.77 percent, while Canada’s is 50 percent, Hanson said. China’s market share of nonwoven fabrics is 0.15 percent, while Israel and Canada each maintain a 17 percent market share.

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