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US Apparel Imports on Track for First Annual Drop in Seven Years

U.S. apparel imports continued to decline in October, furthering a months-long trend that doesn’t show signs of letting up and setting the stage for the first full-year drop in apparel imports since 2009.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, total U.S. goods and services imports fell by almost 2 percent to $194 billion in October compared to the same month in 2015, while exports fell by a smaller 1 percent to $129 billion.

Apparel imports dropped by almost 7 percent in the month, however, more than three times faster than overall imports, to $8.26 billion on a CIF basis, their eighth straight month of year-over-year decline.

The drop in apparel imports has not been offset by an increase in shipments of domestically produced apparel, however. Apparel manufacturing shipments, which picked up in mid-2015, have been hovering around $1 billion per month in 2016.

The average cost per square meter of apparel imports has fallen by 3.9% percent so far this year compared to 2015, a result of the relentless cost reduction that brands have had to resort to in order to expand profit margins in this highly promotional market environment.

China, Vietnam and Bangladesh are the top three sources of imported U.S. apparel, collectively representing 55 percent of year-to-date apparel imports. China has seen its share of the U.S. market slip in recent years as countries with lower labor costs like Vietnam and those in closer proximity like El Salvador have gained share.

Apparel exports plunged by 15 percent in October, to $488 million. Total apparel exports on an FAS basis have fallen every month so far this year on a dollar basis compared to the same period in 2015.

Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom remain the top trading partners, together representing more than half of all U.S. apparel exports. Exports to The United Arab Emirates and Netherlands have grown the fastest in 2016.