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US Footwear Imports Stumbled in 2020, Led by China’s 37.6% Step Down

As demand crumbled from the economic impact of the coronavirus, U.S. footwear imports tumbled 22.8 percent in 2020 to a value of $19.66 billion, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

Chinese imports suffered the biggest impact, as the still-top supplier’s shipments fell 37.6 percent for the year to $7.95 billion. China’s market share stood at 40.4 percent in value terms at year’s end, down from 48.1 percent in 2019. While Covid’s effect on consumer spending and factory output had a significant impact on China’s manufacturing for U.S. importers, the lingering trade war and tariffs on Chinese footwear drove companies to shift their sourcing strategy to limit costs and exposure.

Footwear imports from No. 2 supplier Vietnam declined just 5.5 percent for the year, cutting its annual deficit in recent months. Vietnam’s market share grew to 32.6 percent in 2020 from 26.6 percent the prior year. The combined market shares of China and Vietnam of 73 percent still make them the dominant suppliers of U.S. footwear, even if their prowess appears to be going in different directions.

Indonesia and Italy represented the next tier of suppliers, with market shares of 7 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. Imports from Indonesia fell 16.5 percent to $1.37 billion in 2020 and shipments from Italy decreased 15.5 percent to $1.31 billion.

According to OTEXA data, the only two countries of note that posted increases in footwear imports into the U.S. in 2020 were Cambodia and Croatia. Imports from Cambodia rose 6.7 percent to $480.66 million and those from Croatia were up 22.7 percent to $17.16 million.

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For the month of December, U.S. footwear imports extended their streak of declines in volume and value terms. The volume of footwear imports in the month of the year fell a year-over-year 13.4 percent, lower for the 16th straight month, according to analysis from the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA). Drops of 19.7 percent from China and 8.8 percent from Vietnam overshadowed a 23.9 percent rebound from Indonesia, FDRA said, while imports from the rest of the world bounced back 4.9 percent, reversing nine straight months of losses.

The value of total footwear imports also fell in December, down 10.2 percent from a year earlier and also lower for the 16th straight month.

“With the value of imports sinking slower than the volume, the average landed cost of footwear imports rebounded 3.8 percent in December, only the second increase in the last seven months,” FDRA said. “Accordingly, 2020 saw sharply lower volumes and value of footwear imports, but higher average import costs per pair.”

FDRA stressed that duties remained problematic for the industry, reaching $219 million in December, with average duties per pair climbing to a record $1.43 in 2020, up 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 in 2020,” FDRA said.

For the month, imports of athletic footwear fell 10.9 percent–down for the 14th consecutive month–to the lowest December in six years, as shipments from China and Vietnam both declined sharply, FDRA noted. Bootwear imports stepped down for the 11th time in the past 12 months, mainly due to a 22.7 percent drop in shipments 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.