Skip to main content

US Apparel Imports Surge Sees Slight Taper in May

The ongoing surge in U.S. apparel imports this year lost some steam in May, increasing 21.6 percent to 2.77 billion square meter equivalents (SME) compared to a year earlier after jumping a year-over-year 29.7 percent in April, according to new data released Thursday by the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

Year to date through May, U.S. apparel imports have risen 25 percent to 13.8 billion SME.

According to OTEXA’s report, shipments from top supplier China backed off a bit, gaining 20.1 percent for the month compared to May 2021 to 845.92 million SME, after a 28.5 percent year-over-year gain in April. For the first five months of the year, imports from China were up 24.93 percent to 4.4 billion SME, despite continued tariffs on a wide range of goods.

Reports are that President Biden has said to be considering the removal of Trump-era Section 301 tariffs amid rising inflationary pressure that is driving up prices. American Apparel and Footwear Association president and CEO Steve Lamar told Sourcing Journal that movement on the issue could be announced as early as this week, based on the trade group’s conversations with members of the administration and Congress.

However, Kim Glas, president and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations, wrote in an op-ed in this week that removing the tariffs on apparel wouldn’t cut prices.

“Removing tariffs now would not make any real difference to the inflationary pain Americans are feeling and it would set us back a long way in our fight against China’s predatory trade practices,” Glas wrote. “Tariffs didn’t cause our inflationary woes. These tariffs were in place for nearly three years before inflation took hold. In fact, average U.S. apparel import prices from China have dropped significantly and are down 25 percent since 2019 and 50 percent since 2011.”

Related Stories

The rest of the Top 10 suppliers also posted more moderate gains for the year. Among Asian producers, number two Vietnam’s shipments rose 18.9 percent year over year in May to 454.88 million SME, down from a 24.1 percent increase in April, while shipments from Bangladesh also slowed to a year-over-year gain of 21.1 percent to 280.85 million SME from a four-month increase of 51 percent.

Imports from India were up 29.1 percent in May from a year earlier to 163.91 million SME compared to a 43.4 percent jump in April. Shipments rose 46.1 percent in May to 133.85 million SME compared to a 41 percent rise the prior month from Indonesia, 67.8 percent to 127 million SME versus 40 percent from Cambodia, and 19.5 percent to 101.04 million SME compared to 38.2 percent to 87.83 million SME from Pakistan.

Rounding out the Top 10, Western Hemisphere suppliers, generally benefiting from a closer to home sourcing shift and free trade deals, also saw an import slowdown.

Imports from Honduras rose a year-over-year 8.3 percent in May to 84.68 million SME versus a 14.6 percent rise in April. Shipments from Mexico were up 1.4 percent for the month compared to May 2021 to 72.03 million SME versus an 8.68 percent gain the prior month, and imports from Nicaragua rose 20.6 percent to 56.04 million SME year over year in May after a  22 percent increase the previous month.