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‘Record High’ Duties on China Footwear Stifle Imports Growth, as Other Nations Gain

New data show China maintains its title as the top supplier of footwear to American brands and merchants—for now—but the trade war between the world’s largest economies continues to erode shipments and fragment the sourcing landscape.

While China’s market share of U.S. footwear imports strengthened slightly in value in the year to date through September to 49.39 percent from 49.25 percent the previous month, imports for the period were still down 8.58 percent to $9.69 billion, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

At the same time, Vietnam continues its ascent as the second-place U.S. supplier. U.S. footwear imports from Vietnam increased 11.1 percent year in the first nine months to $5.11 billion, while the country’s market share dipped to 26.04 percent from 26.1 percent the prior month.

The Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA) noted in its monthly analysis that the volume of footwear reaching U.S. shores in the month fell 1.6 percent compared to September 2018, the first decline in the last seven months. FDRA said a 6.7 percent drop in shipments from China offset gains of 7.4 percent from Vietnam and 1.7 percent from Indonesia.

China and Vietnam now combine for a 75.43 percent share of U.S. imports, according to OTEXA, but there is movement among the next tier of suppliers. Indonesia’s shipments were up 9.48 percent year to date to a value of $1.27 billion, as imports from Italy rose 3.6 percent to $1.15 billion, despite struggles plaguing the country’s footwear sector.

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Among the rest of the Top 10 suppliers, gains were posted in the period by India, Cambodia, Spain and the Dominican Republic. Mexico was the only other supplier to see its imports to the U.S. decline, with a fall-off of 13.13 percent to a value of $338.71 million.

The shifts in footwear sourcing come against the backdrop of the tariff-fueled U.S.-China trade conflict, with 10 percent tariffs imposed on Sept. 1 on Chinese goods entering the U.S. FDRA said “duties remain problematic for the industry, reaching an unprecedented $338.4 million in September.”

“The latest round of Trump duties applied against footwear from China is the key culprit behind the jump in duties,” FDRA said. “In fact, the average duties per pair from the rest of the world rose a scant 0.9 percent in September from a year earlier, while duties per pair from China rocketed an eye-watering 53.6 percent higher. At this pace, full-year average duties per pair are on track to climb to a record high again in 2019.”

By category, athletic footwear imports decreased 1.7 percent in September, as declining shipments from China and Indonesia offset an increase from Vietnam, according to FDRA. Bootwear imports rebounded 0.8 percent, as surging shipments from Vietnam balanced out declines from China and Indonesia.