US apparel import volumes rose 3.0% year-on-year in April

US apparel import volumes rose 3.0% year-on-year in April

As US retailers stocked up in anticipation of a busy spring and summer, their preferred supplier choices in April continued to be led by China and Vietnam. But the decline in shipments from Bangladesh appears to be accelerating.

US apparel import volumes rose 3.0% year-on-year in April, according to the latest figures from the Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), climbing to 1.89bn square metre equivalents (SME) from 1.84bn SME a year earlier.

The figures also show a lift of 3.3% on March's imports of 1.83bn SME, and outpace the 1.2% month-on-month rise in imports of all goods and services into the US during April.

Drilling down to individual supplier countries, shipments from China climbed 5.1% to 648m SME on year, and were a massive 28.8% higher than in March - putting paid to suggestions that buyers are fleeing the country, where rising prices are largely being offset by productivity gains.

China's imports into the US are almost exactly three times as large as its nearest rival, Vietnam, but the latter country saw the fastest growth in April, with shipments booking double-digit gains of 13.3% to 217m SME.

Vietnam has been gaining as both producers and buyers diversify their supply chains, with the country's apparel business also being buoyed by the expected benefits of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade treaty with countries including Canada and the US.

However, it was last month shaken when foreign-owned garment and footwear plants were caught up in anti-China protests, which led to a number of factories in Vietnam being set on fire or temporarily forced to halt production.

While just-style has been told the unrest is unlikely to impact long-term industry investment, it remains to be seen whether buyers' confidence in the country - the second-largest apparel supplier to the US - will be affected.

However, this does appear to have been the case with Bangladesh, the US's third-largest apparel supplier, which saw its shipments drop 5.3% in April to 131m SME.

The decline is significant as it now marks the fourth month in a row in which the country's growth has slowed following last year's factory safety issues and subsequent strikes and disruption as a pay rise was negotiated for apparel workers.

Other notable year-on-year declines among the top ten US apparel supply countries in April were a 7.0% drop in imports from Indonesia to 116m SME, and a 7.9% fall for Cambodia, to 88m SME.

Indonesia may well have lost some business to Vietnam, while local firms have also highlighted concerns that a further hike in electricity tariffs will raise production costs and affect the industry's competitiveness in export markets.

Indonesia saw electricity prices rise four times last year, and the minimum wage increased by an average of 18% following worker protests.

A slump in US garment imports from Cambodia is also likely to be due to concerns over poor work conditions, and industrial unrest sparked by poor pay.

Jeans giant Levi Strauss & Co last week confirmed to just-style that it has reduced its sourcing from Cambodian garment factories in a bid to "minimise supply-chain risk and ensure delivery" amid ongoing unrest in the country.

The company said it decided to cut back its orders from Cambodia following widespread strikes in January and the resulting government crackdown which led to the deaths of four garment workers. 

Other brands and retailers, including H&M, Gap, Puma and Inditex have also warned the Cambodian government that due to the disruption to production and shipping caused by continued unrest, Cambodia is at risk of losing its status as a strategic sourcing market. 

Declines were also booked during April by Mexico (down 4.9% to 77m SME) - but gains were seen by Honduras (up 0.46% to 78m SME), India (up 2.62% to 95m SME), El Salvador (up 12% to 68m SME) and Pakistan (also up 12% to 51m SME).

Among the most important regional supply groups, imports from ASEAN edged up 2.0% to 487m SME, South Asia slipped 0.6% to 313m SME, and DR-CAFTA countries rose 6.5% to 240m SME.

Combined imports of textiles and apparel into the US during April climbed 5.1% to 4.61bn SME from 4.39bn SME a year earlier. Textile imports rose 6.6% to 2.72bn SME.

Year to date
While monthly trade data is often volatile, with big swings from one month to the next, a broader view of the year so far shows total US apparel and textile imports climbed 4.8% in the four months from January to April, reaching 18.2bn SME, up from 17.3bn SME in the same period last year.

Within this, textiles rose 6.8% to 10.3bn SME, and apparel shipments edged up 2.3% to 7.8bn SME on the prior year.

Movement within the top three apparel supplier counties during the four months shows imports from China have edged up 0.9% to 2.8bn SME, in contrast to a 12.7% hike booked by Vietnam to 887m SME. But the volume of imports from Bangladesh has fallen 3.49% to 578m SME.

Other changes include a 1.7% drop in apparel imports from Indonesia to 482m SME, and a decline 0.24% for Cambodia to 370m SME.

But India remains a notable winner during the year so far, with its apparel shipments to the US surging 10.2% to 360m SME.