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From China to Nicaragua, US Apparel Imports Surge

Despite some inflationary concerns, retailers and brands are clearly seeing consumer demand staying high, as evidenced by the continued surge in apparel imports in February.

U.S. apparel imports increased 27 percent in the month compared to February 2021 to 2.63 billion square meter equivalents (SME). For the first two months of the year, importers brought in 5.24 billion SME in apparel, up 24.69 percent from the year-ago period, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA).

The substantial uptick was seen from Asia to the Western Hemisphere and included top to second tier suppliers. Among the Top 10 production spots, imports from No.1 supplier China rose 32.3 percent year over year in February to 949.92 million SME and increased 28.5 percent year to date to 1.95 billion SME.

Vietnam’s production woes seem to be behind the Southeast Asian nation, as shipments were up 29.1 percent for the month to 430.28 million SME and grew 18.83 percent year to date to 810 million SME. No. 3 supplier Bangladesh kept going strong, with gains of 35.11 percent to 530 million SME year to date and 27.9 percent to 247.71 million SME for the month.

The rest of the Top 10 Asian powerhouses followed with impressive increases, OTEXA data showed. Imports from India rose 20.8 percent to 114.54 million SME in February and 25.76 percent year to date to 238 million SME, shipments from Cambodia were up 28 percent to 121.58 million SME for the month and 21.93 percent to 227 million SME year to date, while Indonesia had gains of 48.6 percent gain to 111.12 million SME in February and 43.97 percent to 219 million SME in the two-month period, and shipments from Pakistan rose 32.8 percent to 82.47 million SME for the month and 27.72 percent to 167 million SME year to date.

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The push to source closer to home was seen in increases from the final group of Top 10 producers and their neighbors. Imports from Honduras were up 6 percent year over year in February to 70.83 million SME and 5.22 percent in the first two months of 2022 to 120 million SME, as shipments from Mexico rose 7.5 percent for the month to 67.36 million SME and 13.61 percent to 133 million SME year to date, and imports from El Salvador grew 10.7 percent year over year in February to 53.28 million SME and 9.49 percent in the two-month period to 96 million SME.

Joining El Salvador and Honduras in the sourcing uptick were Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) partners Nicaragua, with imports up 22.4 percent for the month; Guatemala, with a gain of 11.5 percent, and the Dominican Republic, up 12.5 percent.

This goes along with a series of investments being made in CAFTA countries. Miami-based Intradeco Holdings announced a $100 million investment in a new spinning mill in Honduras and a new manufacturing plant and expanded solar energy facility in El Salvador.

Gastonia, N.C.-based Parkdale Mills, the largest U.S. producer of cotton spun yarn, announced a $150 million investment in a new yarn spinning facility in Honduras in December, while last month ThinkHUGE (Honduras, USA, Guatemala, El Salvador) said it was making $340 million in textile investments in the region, in addition to $680 million of investments in renewable energy production to further sustain this critical supply chain.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that the goods and services trade deficit was $89.2 billion in February, down less than 0.1 percent from January. The February decrease reflected a decline in the goods deficit of $1.1 billion to $107.5 billion and a decrease in the services surplus of $1.1 billion to $18.3 billion.

The deficit with China increased $7.9 billion to $41.2 billion in February. Exports increased $200 million to $13 billion, and imports rose $8.1 billion to $54.2 billion.