WASHINGTON — Chinese apparel and textile imports shot up 37.2 percent in April compared with a year earlier, picking up the pace from March’s 36.2 percent rise.
Overall apparel and textile imports rose 4.4 percent in April to 3.89 billion square meter equivalents, according to figures released by the Commerce Department Friday.
Imports from China have been one of the most contentious issues in the industry since the member countries of the World Trade Organization dropped quotas in January. Since then, apparel and textile imports from the world have risen 8.8 percent, thanks largely to a 45 percent increase in goods from China.
The Bush Administration has taken steps to slow the surge by imposing quotas on seven categories of Chinese imports. The restrictions, which hold growth to a 7.5 percent annual increase, are intended to safeguard domestic textile producers.
The European Union on Friday reached a deal with the Chinese to limit apparel and textile exports to the EU in 10 categories of goods to annual growth of about 10 percent through 2007 (see related story, this page).
April’s rush of Chinese imports into the U.S. was made up of a 111.7 percent rise in apparel, to 392 million SME, and a 17.9 increase in non-apparel textile mill products to 845 million SME.
“China is just growing through the roof,” said a spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition. “They’ve taken about 100 million square meters of apparel trade from the rest of the world this year.”
Some of the largest increases in April came from cotton knit shirts, which jumped 1,514 percent, and cotton trousers, which were up 1,321 percent. The safeguard quotas on both of those categories are just over 15 percent filled since their implementation on May 23. Once the quotas are filled, no more goods in those categories will be allowed to be shipped from China to the U.S. this year.
Despite big jumps in some categories, the overall increase is not that big, said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel.
“The most important shift that we see in the April data is that many countries are still increasing their apparel shipments to the U.S.,” said Hughes. “There are many countries that remain very competitive suppliers.”
Bangladesh, with a 27 percent increase in apparel and textile imports in April, and India, with an 18.5 percent advance, also benefited from the elimination of quotas.
On the losing end were Hong Kong, with a 39.8 percent drop; South Korea, with a 22.1 percent decline, and Taiwan, which was down 18.8 percent.
Collectively, apparel and textile imports from Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic — all parties to the pending Central American Free Trade Agreement — grew 6.1 percent since January to 1.26 billion SME.
“This really reflects that Central America is a competitive supplier,” said Hughes. “If we don’t pass CAFTA, they’re going to start losing. With CAFTA passage, I think they’re going to hold on to what they have, and I think that they really do have the ability to continue to grow.”
The agreement, which faces stiff resistance in Congress over several issues — including textiles, sugar, labor rights and environmental protections — begins committee review this week.