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First-Half Apparel Imports Reveal Winners and Losers as Trade War Rages On

With the threat of 10 percent to 25 percent tariffs on apparel imports from China looming over the industry, the damage already seems to be done.

Fresh data released Friday by the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA) revealed that imports from China for the first half of the year rose just 0.68 percent in value to $11.31 billion, while Top 10 suppliers Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Honduras and Pakistan posted double-digit gains in the period.

China did see its shipments to the U.S. rise 3.06 percent in volume for the first six months of 2019 to 4.97 billion square meter equivalents (SMEs), but this also pales in comparison to its decades-long rise to prominence as a top supplier for U.S. apparel imports. Much of the recent decline can be linked to the tariff-fueled trade war between the world’s two largest economies under the Trump administration.

While many agree that China’s trade policies demand reform, the most recent threat from the White House of a 10 percent tariff on Chinese goods entering the country that for the first time would include apparel was met by criticism from importers but hailed by the domestic textile industry.

Hun Quach, vice president of international trade at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said, “The list of products these tariffs will hit are almost entirely consumer-oriented. This new 10 percent tariff on Chinese imports is a direct hit on consumer products and family budgets, plain and simple.”

On the other side of the issue, Kim Glas, president and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), said, “China’s rampant abuse of intellectual property rights and IP theft has gone on far too long at the direct expense of the U.S. textile industry and its supply chain, resulting in the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs in this critical sector. We have long encouraged the administration to include finished products on the tariff list.

“We believe this move will lead to more re-shoring of production to the United States and the Western Hemisphere production platform—and will also address and mitigate China’s rampant trade distortions,” Glas added,

While there has been an uptick in U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing, the biggest beneficiaries of the trade war seem to be other producers.

Apparel imports from Vietnam increased 11.74 percent in the year though June to $6.36 billion, while Bangladesh shipments rose 14.49 percent to $3.08 billion, India’s were up 10.43 percent, imports from Honduras rose 11.7 percent to $1.32 billion and shipments from Pakistan gained 11.03 percent to $707 million worth of goods.

There were some losers in the first half that saw apparel imports from the world rise 5.91 percent to $40.05 billion, including Mexico, with imports to the U.S. falling 3.49 percent to a value of $1.66 billion, and El Salvador, with shipments of 0.24 percent to $888 million.

Rounding out the Top 10, apparel imports from Indonesia were up 2.35 percent to $2.28 billion, and shipments from Cambodia rose 8.3 percent to $1.21 billion.

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