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Apparel Import Race Picks Up in 2015, Vietnam the Victor

U.S. apparel import growth accelerated in 2015, according to data released last week by OTEXA, the International Trade Administration’s Office of Textiles and Apparel, despite the ports slowdown last Spring, and slowing retail sales of apparel, further indication that imports are taking a larger share of the U.S. apparel market.

Total dollar imports rose by more than 4 percent, to $85 billion. On a square meter equivalent (SME) basis, imports rose by 6.1%, indicating a shift toward cheaper goods compared to last year, making 2015 the third straight year in which the average value per square meter of imported apparel has dropped during the year.

Between 2013 and 2014, the dollar value of apparel imports rose by only 2.5%.

Though China made up some lost ground over the summer, import growth from the largest source of U.S. apparel was below the overall average for the full year, rising by only 2.5% on a dollar basis. On an SME basis, however, imports increased by 5.6%. The average cost per square meter equivalent from China in 2015 fell by almost 3 percent between 2014 and 2015.

Though rising labor rates in China have not had an impact on the cost of goods from China, the country’s share of U.S. apparel dollar import volume dropped by 0.6% compared to 2014, to 35.9%. Imports of manmade fiber apparel from China increased by 8.7%, while those of cotton apparel fell by 2.6%.

Vietnam gained the most share of U.S. apparel imports. Apparel imports from Vietnam increased in 2015 by 14 percent year-over-year, to $10.6 billion. Though a distant number two source of U.S. apparel imports, Vietnam managed to gain more than a percentage point of share last year, to 12.4% of U.S. imports. With the passing of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), we will likely see this share grow in the coming years. Manmade fiber apparel imports from Vietnam grew by 22 percent in 2015, while those of cotton gained less than 5 percent.

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Imports from Bangladesh jumped by 11.7% in 2015 compared to the prior year, to $5.4 billion, moving it ahead of Indonesia as the third largest source of U.S. apparel imports on both a dollar and SME basis. This gave Bangladesh a 400 basis point share increase, to 6.3% of total U.S. apparel imports. Manmade fiber apparel imports increased by 25 percent and cotton apparel imports grew by 9 percent during the year.

Apparel imports from India grew by 7.8% to $3.7 billion in 2015. India’s share of U.S. apparel has risen to 4.3% so far this year, making it the fifth largest source of imported apparel. Cotton and manmade fiber apparel contributed roughly evenly to the increase.

Despite the talk about a shift from off-shoring to near-shoring, Asian countries collectively gained 0.6 percentage points of U.S. apparel imports in 2015, while CAFT-DR and Mexico collectively lost 0.3 percentage points.

Other countries enjoying rapid growth in apparel trade with the U.S. in 2015 include: Sri Lanka, up 16 percent to $2 billion; Madagascar up 162 percent to $49 million; and Myanmar up 160 percent to $41 million.