WASHINGTON — Textile and apparel imports rose 6.8 percent in March compared with a year ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.
The shipments for the month totaled 1.4 billion square meters equivalent. This was a record for any March, but below the all-time monthly import record of 1.5 billion SME set last August. The month’s increase also represented a slowing of the growth rate earlier in the year, when imports posted gains of 8.9 percent in February and 11 percent in January.
For the first quarter of this year, imports of textiles and apparel were up 8.8 percent, to almost 4.1 billion SME, and for the 12 months ending in March these imports rose 10.2 percent, to 16.2 billion SME.
Apparel imports in March increased 9 percent, to 673.4 million SME. During the first quarter, they were up 9.2 percent, to 1.9 billion SME, and for the year ending in March, they rose 8.4 percent, to 7.7 billion SME.
Textile imports rose 4.8 percent in March, to 750.3 million SME.
For the first quarter, textile imports increased 8.4 percent, to 2.1 billion SME, and they were up 11.8 percent, to almost 8.5 billion SME, for the year ending in March.
Among the major shippers, the textile and apparel imports from China — the number one supplier to the U.S. — jumped 12.2 percent in March, after two consecutive months of decline.
In sharp contrast, imports from Hong Kong — the number three supplier — dropped 14.8 percent in March, following two months in which its exports surged strongly, filling the void left by Chinese shipments.
For the quarter, imports from China were off 1.5 percent against a year ago, while Hong Kong’s shipments were up 12.9 percent.
Discussing the shifts among major suppliers, Donald Foote, agreements division director with the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel, forecast that the number one suppliers of the past — Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong — will continue to move down in ranking to be replaced by large, less developed countries. He declined to say which those would be.
However, the latest OTEXA statistics indicate two of them appear to be Pakistan, whose textile-apparel shipments to the U.S. rose 15.1 percent in the quarter, to 192.8 million SME, and Turkey, whose shipments were up 46.5 percent, to 72.6 million SME.
These trends were not lost on William J. Armfield 4th, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute president, who, in a statement reacting to the monthly import figures, pointed to the closed markets of some of the key U.S. suppliers, including Pakistan.
Most textile and apparel imports coming into the U.S. “are from countries which have essentially closed their textile and apparel markets to the world,” said Armfield, vice chairman of Unifi Inc., Greensboro, N.C. Armfield noted that during the first quarter, U.S. imports from China, India and Pakistan were valued at $1.6 billion. “In contrast, U.S. exports of textile and apparel products to these countries totaled only $15 million,” Armfield said.
The ATMI chairman said it would work with the U.S. government to push these nations to open their markets to textile and apparel imports.