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Apparel Imports Increased in September, Led Largely by Vietnam

U.S. apparel imports rose in September, reversing a three-month trend of declines, but the increase was below that of overall goods and services imports, according to data released late last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Total apparel imports increased by 2.6% in the month to $8.5 billion on a CIF basis, while total U.S. goods and services imports increased by 4.7%, to $196.5 billion.

Apparel exports dropped by 1.4% to $482 million. Total U.S. goods and services exports increased by 2.6%.

Year-to-date apparel imports have fallen compared to last year, according to OTEXA, the International Trade Administration’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

Total apparel imports declined by 1.4% on an MFA basis in the first nine months of the year, to $60.8 billion from $61.6 billion in the same period in 2016.

Among the top 10 U.S. apparel trading partners, only Vietnam, India, Nicaragua and Mexico have grown their apparel shipments to the U.S. this year.

On a square meter equivalent (SME) basis, imports have edged up by 1.1% this year, continuing the trend toward lower-cost goods, despite upward pressure on labor and raw material prices. The average cost per unit of an imported garment fell by 2.4% in the first three quarters of the year.

The average cost per SME increased by 12.5% from Mexico and 4.2% for El Salvador, and was flat from Honduras, but dropped for all other key trading partners, with the cost per SME from China suffering the biggest drop, down by 6.2%.

Vietnam’s apparel shipments to the U.S. continued to grow, increasing by 6.5% to $8.7 billion in the year-to-date period, gaining over a percentage of U.S. apparel import market share so far this year, to 14.4%.

Mexico’s apparel exports to the U.S. increased by 6 percent to $2.7 billion, helped by near-sourcing efforts on the part of many U.S. brands. Mexico’s share of U.S. apparel imports increased by 0.3 percentage points.

China has lost the most share of U.S. apparel imports in the period, down 90 basis points to 31.8% of the total, to $20.4 billion.

Bangladesh also lost share, with apparel shipments to the U.S. down by 5.6% year-to-date, to 6.8% of total U.S. apparel imports.