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China Regains US Apparel Import Share in March

U.S. Apparel imports surged in March as the workflow at West Coast ports returned to normal, allowing apparel importers to take full advantage of the strong U.S. dollar.

Total U.S. apparel imports (MFA) in March jumped by 18.5% in dollars and 24.5% in square meter equivalents (SMEs), bringing the year-to-date import increases in the two measures to 3.9% and 6.1%, respectively, according to data just released by OTEXA, the International Trade Administration’s Office of Textiles and Apparel.

China managed to regain some ground lost in recent months to Vietnam, Bangladesh and India. Total apparel imports from China surged by 40 percent in March, to over $2 billion, helping it increase its year-to-date share of U.S. apparel imports to 32.8%. On a square meter equivalent basis, imports from China soared by 54 percent in the month, driving down the average cost per unit considerably. So far this year, imports from China have grown by 4.9% in dollars, slightly faster than total apparel imports.

Apparel imports from Vietnam increased by 37.6% in the month to $911 million, making it the number two source of U.S. apparel imports, and giving the country a 0.9-percentage-point share gain so far this year to 12 percent of total dollar imports of apparel. For the year-to-date, dollar imports from Vietnam are up by 12 percent.

Apparel imports from India grew by 12 percent to $393 million, bringing the year-to-date total to over a billion dollars, and giving the country a 0.3 percentage point share gain of U.S. apparel imports.

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Indonesia’s apparel shipments to the U.S. have declined by 4.9% in the first three months of 2015, resulting in a 0.6% share loss, as the country tries to grapple with infrastructure deficiencies and labor issues.

Other countries among the top 10 to enjoy share gains include El Salvador and Honduras, whose increases have helped propel imports from CAFTA and the Western Hemisphere region so far this year.

Other countries are also appearing on U.S. brands’ radar as smaller developing nations begin to build apparel manufacturing capabilities. The share of these countries, included in  “rest of world” in the chart below, have seen double-digit growth so far this year, and include Sri Lanka, Jordan and Kenya.

Imports from Haiti have risen by almost 9 percent in 2015 to $190 million as the apparel industry there begins to develop.

Imports from Burma (Myanmar) have grown by almost 140 percent in the first three months of this year, to more than $6 million. Though concerns over wage disputes and safety compliance are keeping many U.S. brands away, the low wages and expanding cut-and-sew capabilities are proving irresistible to others.