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US Apparel Imports Down 30%, as China’s Slashed in Half in July

While stores continue to reopen and companies work to get back business lost from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, they still aren’t importing much apparel.

U.S. apparel imports fell 32 percent to $6 billion in value terms in July compared to a year earlier, according to figures released Thursday by the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA). Companies have imported 30.68 percent less apparel in the first seven months of the year–a period that began with the still-raging U.S. China trade war, Chinese New Year factory closing and the global coronavirus pandemic–for a value of $33.88 billion compared to $48.87 billion for the same period in 2019, according to OTEXA.

The greatest impact has been on China, which posted a 49.34 percent year-to-date decline through July to retain its position as the top supplier with $7.35 billion worth of goods imported. In July, 50 percent less apparel, or $1.58 billion worth, was imported to the U.S. from China compared to a year earlier.

Apparel imports from No. 2 supplier Vietnam declined 11.06 percent for the seven-month period to $6.94 billion and were down 11 percent in July compared to a year earlier to $1.29 billion. However, Vietnam did post a 2.9 percent volume increase to 393.29 million square meter equivalents (SME).

Third-place supplier Bangladesh didn’t fare much better, with year-to-date imports down 18.54 percent to $2.91 billion and year-over-year shipments off 11 percent to $436.34 million.

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Cambodia was the only country among the Top 10 suppliers to register increases in year-to-date and year-over-year imports to the U.S. For the year through July, imports from Cambodia rose 6.13 percent to $1.54 billion and were up 19.2 percent in the month compared to a year earlier to $292.67 million.

“Today’s apparel import data…continues the trend for a few suppliers who are able to expand their presence in the U.S. market even during the pandemic,” said Julia K. Hughes, president of the United States Fashion Industry Association. “Vietnam, of course, has weathered Covid better than many countries and expands its role as the sourcing destination every brand and retailer relies on. I’m also heartened by the success stories of Cambodia, Myanmar and Ethiopia, some of the poorest countries in the world, who are continuing to grow.”

Apparel imports from Ethiopia rose 24.1 percent to $20.4 million and shipments from Myanmar increased 9.8 percent to $29.89 million.

Among the rest of the top Asian suppliers, imports from Indonesia were down 19.88 percent in the year through July to $2.08 billion and declined 16 percent year over year to $268.08 million, while India’s shipments dropped 33.28 percent in the seven months to $1.75 billion and were down 41 percent in the month from a year earlier to $213.21 million, and imports from Pakistan declined 18.93 percent year to date to $689 million and fell 27 percent in the month compared to July 2019 to $104.37 million.

Among the top Western Hemisphere suppliers, imports from Mexico fell 36.03 percent in the seven months to $1.21 billion and were off 29 percent year over year to $199.48 million. Shipments from Honduras declined 47.01 percent year to date to $833 million and were down 43 percent in the month from a year earlier to $151.54 million, as imports from El Salvador plummeted 46.78 percent in the seven-month period to $578 million and fell 41 percent year over year in July to $117.54 million.

Hughes also cited Turkey and Colombia as suppliers that are faring well. In volume terms, imports from Turkey increased 11 percent year over year July to 8.24 SME, while those from Colombia, which Hughes said was “doing a great job of holding virtual events to encourage more duty-free sourcing in the Western Hemisphere,” were up 19.4 percent to 3.06 million SME.