US apparel shipments from China and Vietnam saw fluctuating fortunes in February

US apparel shipments from China and Vietnam saw fluctuating fortunes in February

February is historically the slowest month of the year when it comes to US apparel imports, so it's not surprising that volumes were down. But the fortunes of the two biggest suppliers tell a very different story, with shipments from China seeing a double-digit decline and those from Vietnam continuing to rise.

The latest figures from the Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show the volume of US apparel imports in February fell 4.2% to 1.98bn square metre equivalents (SME). This is lower than both the 2.07bn SME booked last year and the 2.14bn SME in January.

The numbers also contrast starkly with the 0.4% rise in imports of all goods and services into the US during the month.

Of the top ten US apparel supply countries, five saw their imports fall. By far the biggest decline was booked by the largest supplier - China - whose shipments tumbled 12.0% to 754m SME during the month.

Bangladesh, at number three, saw a drop of 10.2% to 136m SME, and Indonesia (number four) slipped 4.6% to 109m SME.

The decline from Bangladesh is perhaps most worrying as it marks the second month in a row in which the country's growth has slowed. November last year was the first time shipments fell since factory safety issues came to the fore with the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in April.

But Vietnam, which ranked as the fastest-growing apparel supplier to the US last year, continues to gain as both producers and buyers diversify their supply chains. February imports were up 6.5% year-on-year to 225m SME, 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.

Among the other US import winners during the month were Honduras (up 6.0% to 93m SME), Cambodia (up 3.0% to 91m SME), Mexico (up 0.02% to 75m SME), and India (up 9.0% to 83m SME).

But declines were seen by El Salvador (down 7.8% to 59m MSE) and Pakistan (down 3.7% to 42m SME).

Among the most important regional supply groups, ASEAN rose just 0.1% to 485m SME, South Asia fell 1.6% to 297m SME, and DR-CAFTA climbed 6.3% to 247m SME.

Combined imports of textiles and apparel in the US during February slipped 4.1% to 4.36bn SME, with textile shipments also slipping 4.1% to 2.38bn 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 2.6% in January and February to 9.4bn SME, up from 9.2bn SME in the same period the year before. 

Within this, textiles rose 5.1% to 5.3bn SME, whereas apparel shipments slipped 0.4% to 4.1bn SME on the prior year.

Movement within the top three supplier counties during the two months saw the volume of imports from China fall 3.2% to 1.7bn SME, those from Vietnam climbed 9.1% to 464m SME, and imports from Bangladesh were down 3.5% to 302m SME.

By regional group, imports from ASEAN edged up 0.15% to 994m SME, South Asia was up 1.6% to 637m SME, and DR-CAFTA climbed 5.5% to 418m SME.