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US Apparel Imports Cooling Off?

The pace of U.S. apparel imports slowed in October, rising 13.6 percent to 2.86 billion square meter equivalents (SME) compared to a year earlier after increasing 17.1 percent from a year earlier to 2.88 billion SME in September, according to data released Tuesday by the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

For the year to date, apparel imports were up 27.5 percent to 24.45 billion SME versus the 29.08 percent year to date gain reported for the first nine months of the year. The slowdown could be attributed to many retailers and brands rushing in goods for the holiday peak season as well as the ongoing backlog at West Coast ports.

Apparel imports from No. 2 supplier Vietnam, which had fallen 4.6 percent in September compared to a year earlier on the heels of Covid-related factory closures, rose a year-over-year 7.4 percent in October to 385.03 million SME. For the 10 months, shipments from Vietnam were up 17.86 percent to 3.75 billion SME, according to OTEXA.

Mired in political strife with the U.S. as tariffs remain in place, top supplier China’s apparel shipments arriving in U.S. ports rose 14.1 percent in October year over year to 1.17 billion SME. This compared to a 25.2 percent increase the prior month. For the first 10 month of 2021, imports from China rose 30.42 percent to 9.15 billion SME.

Among other Top 10 Asian suppliers, imports from Bangladesh increased 20.3 percent in October from a year earlier to 236.13 million SME, while those from Cambodia were up 22.6 percent to 146.16 million SME for the month and 12.22 percent to 1.06 billion SME for the year to date.

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Shipments from India rose 30.6 percent for the month to 126.43 million SME and 40.3 percent year to date to 1.06 billion SME, while imports from Indonesia jumped 28.5 percent in October to 119.87 million SME and 16.05 percent in the 10-month period to 917 million SME, and Pakistan’s rose 9.7 percent to 74.92 million SME for the month and 44.15 percent to 722 million SME for the year to date.

Western Hemisphere nations in the Top 10 suppliers, getting increased attention of late in nearshoring efforts, also generated gains for the month and year.

Imports from Mexico rose 14.8 percent for the month to 69.46 million SME and were up 22.87 percent year to date to 699 million SME. Central American countries, the focus of a new initiative launched last week called the Coalition for Economic Partnerships in the Americas (CEPA), saw mixed results in the month.

Imports from Top 10 suppliers Honduras and El Salvador fell 16 percent for the month to 68.2 million SME and 5 percent to 35.33 million SME, respectively, but were still up 28.4 percent year to date to 720 million SME, and 42.04 percent to 544 million SME, also respectively.

Central America’s Nicaragua, up 9.6 percent in October to 54.44 million SME, and Caribbean supplier Dominican Republic, gaining 11.8 percent to 21.1 million SME, fared better, while Guatemala’s shipments dipped 6.9 percent to 27.39 million SME.

“For far too long, the U.S.-Central America economic relationship has failed to reach its full potential, suppressing employment, investment, economic growth and shared regional prosperity,” said Beth Hughes, a CEPA spokesperson who is also vice president of trade and customs policy for the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

CEPA and its members aim to share their experiences creating large-scale employment in sustainable, growing industries, and shift away from historical zero-sum thinking to realize an inclusive economic model that broadens the circle of winners, puts workers first, promotes women’s empowerment, and supports greener supply chains.