WASHINGTON — Chinese apparel and textile imports to the U.S. rose 36.2 percent in March compared with a year ago, although the rate of increase slowed from February.

The 105.8 percent February jump in the twin categories from China instigated calls for help from domestic producers looking to slow job losses. Importers said at the time that the big increase came when companies held back shipments until Jan. 1, when the quota system that restricted global trade for more than 30 years ended.

China’s gains in March consisted of a 93.5 percent rise in apparel imports to 339 million square meter equivalents and a 19.4 percent advance in textiles to 715 million SME. The monthly trade report from the Commerce Department showed that worldwide imports of apparel and textiles rose 5.9 percent to 4.1 billion SME compared with a 19.4 percent increase in February.

“Overall, imports are not surging that much,” said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the United States Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel. “What we’re seeing is a shift among the Asian suppliers, with China taking over a larger share.”

Countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh shipped more goods to the U.S. in March versus a year ago, while Mexico, South Korea, Canada and Taiwan all lost ground.

“The increases [from China] are still out of control, they’re still going up rapidly,” said a spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, one of the organizations pushing for new restrictions. “If no action is taken, they’re going to keep going up substantially.”

For the first four months of the year, including preliminary April data that was also made available Wednesday, Chinese imports of textiles and apparel jumped 63.7 percent to 3.8 billion SME.

China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and agreed to a provision allowing for the imposition of temporary safeguard quotas though 2008, should imports disrupt the domestic market. The Bush administration is considering pulling the safeguard trigger on several categories of goods and most expect at least some of the restrictions to go into effect by the end of summer.

There have been overlapping safeguard petitions from the industry, some from last year, based on the threat of market disruption, and others pointing to data from January and February on actual market disruption. The government also has initiated its own review of certain categories of goods for potential safeguard quotas.

This story first appeared in the May 12, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Some of the categories of Chinese imports under consideration for these renewed quotas continued to see dramatic increases in March as well as April, based on the preliminary data report.

Chinese shipments of cotton knit shirts and blouses, for instance, rose 1,858 percent in March and 1,618 percent in April, making for a 1,356 percent increase to 9.8 million dozen for the first four months of the year. Cotton and man-made fiber sweaters jumped 1,114 percent in March and 805 percent in April, making for a year-to-date rise of 259 percent to 537,000 dozen.

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