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New Year, Same Down Story for US Footwear Imports

U.S. footwear imports did not step in a new direction as 2021 kicked off, instead remaining in a downward spiral.

Shipments entering the U.S. from around the world fell 17.7 percent to $1.81 billion in January, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA), compared to a value of $2.2 billion a year earlier, when the world was not yet feeling the harshest affects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The volume of U.S. footwear imports during the first month of the year sank a year-over-year 18.9 percent–lower for the 17th straight month–to 164.92 million pairs. According to analysis from the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA), U.S. footwear imports fell to the lowest January in several years, due to the lingering impact from the Covid-19 pandemic.

China’s fall from dominance continued, with imports from the still-top supplier plunging 28 percent to $720.25 million and a 39.8 percent market share. No. 2 supplier Vietnam’s shipments dipped 9.3 percent compared to January 2020 to $617 million and a 34.1 percent market share. This means that even with all the trade and pandemic upheaval, China and Vietnam still collectively control 73.9 percent of U.S. footwear imports.

Among the second tier of suppliers, third-place Italy saw its imports increase a year over year 3.9 percent to $125.23 million in January, while imports from Indonesia fell 17.3 percent to $125.23 million and shipments from Cambodia declined 26.3 percent to $40.44 million.

Among the rest of the second-tier group, Germany, Mexico, Spain and the Dominican Republic saw gains. From tertiary producers, increases were posted by Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hong Kong.

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FDRA said duties remain problematic for the industry, reaching $246.5 million in January, with average duties per pair climbing to a record $1.43 in 2020, higher for the 11th straight year.

“Trump duties applied against footwear from China late in 2019 remain a key culprit behind the jump in duties per pair last year and will bear close scrutiny in 2021,” FDRA said.

Footwear imports by select category were also mostly lower in the month. Imports of children’s footwear decreased 21.1 percent, led by a 31.5 percent falloff in shipments from China.

Athletic footwear imports fell 10.9 percent, the 14th straight drop, to the lowest December in six years, according to FDRA, as shipments from China and Vietnam both retreated sharply. Bootwear imports declined for the 11th time in the last 12 months, with a 22.7 percent drop from China.

“Looking ahead, given the lingering Trump tariffs and dull consumer demand from the pandemic, we expect shipments will not rebound enough in the new year to offset the 2020 collapse, implying imports will remain well below near-term highs reached in 2019,” FDRA added.