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Felled by Coronavirus, US Footwear Imports Plunged Q1

Starting with factories closures in China around Lunar New Year and the onslaught of coronavirus around the world in February and March, U.S. footwear imports fell 15.5 percent to $5.4 billion in value in the first quarter compared to the same period in 2019, according to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

Three of the top five suppliers posted declines in the quarter as the pandemic forced factory shutdowns globally and devastated demand in the U.S., which saw massive stores closures. The drop-off was led by a 31.8 percent year-to-year decline in imports from China in the period to $2.21 billion.

Also seeing decreases were major suppliers Indonesia, with shipments falling 10.6 percent to $379.3 million, and Italy, declining 6.7 percent to $347.48 million. Two top manufacturing countries registering increases were Vietnam and Cambodia, both of which kept their factories running and, according to government reports, felt minimal impact from COVID-19. Imports from Vietnam rose 6.8 percent in the period to $1.72 billion, while shipments from Cambodia jumped 38.4 percent to $146.38 million.

In March, U.S. footwear imports fell at the fastest pace in years, declining significantly in volume and value, due to the impact from the coronavirus and from continued surges in duty costs, according to an analysis from the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA). The volume of footwear imported to the U.S. during the month sank a year-over-year 31.4 percent, the seventh straight monthly decline and the biggest drop in four years, FDRA said. A 46 percent dive in shipments from China couldn’t offset a 1.7 percent gain from Vietnam, while imports from the rest of the world were down 10.3 percent.

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The value of total footwear imports decreased 23 percent from a year earlier, also lower for the seventh straight month, FDRA noted.

Duties reached $177.8 million in March, with tariffs applied against footwear from China the main cause of that jump. FDRA said while average duties per pair from the rest of the world were down 7.5 percent in March from a year earlier, duties per pair from China jumped for the seventh consecutive month to 36.5 percent.

FDRA said it expects full-year average duties per pair from the world could climb to a record high of $1.72 in 2020, up 28 percent from last year.

By category, bootwear imports plunged 25.9 percent to the lowest month in 12 years, as shipments from China, Vietnam and Indonesia all declined. Athletic footwear imports continued to lose ground, falling another 19.3 percent in the month to a seven-year low, as shipments from largest-supplier China fell to the lowest month since 1998.

“On balance, given the broad-based March losses, lingering Trump tariffs, and coronavirus fallout on both sides of the Pacific, we maintain our view that full-year shipments will retreat sharply in 2020, while duties may rival last year’s record of $3.3 billion,” FDRA said.