WASHINGTON — U.S. imports of apparel and textiles hit their highest first-quarter level ever as China captured more of the market from foreign suppliers, contributing to the record import increase.
Combined imports in the two industries rose 10.1 percent to 10.8 billion square meters equivalent, or SME, driven primarily by an increase of 18.55 percent to 6.2 billion SME in textile imports, according to the Commerce Department trade report issued Wednesday. Apparel imports were up 0.31 percent to 4.5 billion SME.
China propelled the rise in textile imports, mostly in categories no longer under quota, including luggage, yarns, sheets, pillowcases, blankets and tents. Textile imports from China rose 57 percent to 1.7 billion SME, while apparel imports from China increased 17.4 percent to 572 million SME.
Developing countries and domestic textile and apparel groups are bracing for the elimination of apparel and textile quotas on Jan. 1 by the 147 countries of the World Trade Organization. The Bush administration last year, at the behest of the U.S. textile industry, imposed safeguard quotas because of “market disruption” on three Chinese textile and apparel categories in which quotas had been removed in 2002.
A coalition of 66 textile and apparel associations representing 36 countries have signed the Istanbul Declaration for Fair Trade in Textiles & Clothing and are calling for an extension of quotas beyond 2005.
U.S. officials have said they remain committed to the phaseout, but the coalition is pressing ahead and plans to convene a two-day summit in Brussels on Sunday to pressure governments to put the issue on the WTO agenda.
U.S. apparel and textile imports in March compared with a year ago increased 17.5 percent to 3.84 billion SME. Textile imports were up 25.7 percent to 2.22 billion SME and apparel imports rose 7.7 percent to 1.6 billion SME.
U.S. imports from several foreign suppliers were higher in March. India gained 25.8 percent, Indonesia, 20.2 percent, Taiwan, 7.5 percent, South Korea, 37.8 percent and Pakistan 28.6 percent. Mexico reversed months of declines to rise 12 percent.
Some countries, including Bangladesh, Canada and the Philippines, posted declines in apparel and textile imports to the U.S. in March compared with a year ago. In the quarter, imports fell 9.6 percent from Bangladesh, 18.1 percent from the Philippines, 13 percent from Thailand, 10.5 percent from Turkey and 4.2 percent from Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said Wednesday it would penalize Vietnam for Customs violations by reducing the apparel and textile imports it ships to the U.S. Vietnam’s quotas will be trimmed by 2.5 percent based on volume and 4.5 percent based on dollar value as a result of an investigation that revealed 12 million garments were falsely identified in apparel and textile shipments.
The U.S. imposed quotas on 38 apparel and textile import categories from Vietnam on May 1, 2003. The quotas were expected to limit the value of Vietnamese apparel imports to $1.65 billion in the first 12 months.