Vietnam booked double-digit export gains in January

Vietnam booked double-digit export gains in January

A rise in US apparel imports in January suggests retailers are optimistic for a good start to the year, with gains outpacing imports of all goods and services during the month and Vietnam the fastest-growing supplier. 

Figures from the Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show the volume of apparel imports in January was 3.4% higher year-on-year at 2.14bn square metre equivalents (SME).

This compares with the 2.07bn SME imported in January 2013, and is 16.9% higher than December.

The numbers also exceed the 1.2% year-on-year rise in imports of all goods and services into the US in January.

Gains were booked during the month by each of the US's three largest apparel suppliers. China rose 5.5% to 919m SME, Vietnam surged 11.6% to 238m SME, and Bangladesh saw its shipments edge up 2.8% to 166m SME.

The figures appear to fly in the face of repeated claims buyers are fleeing China, where rising prices are largely being offset by productivity gains.

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

The country is the second-largest apparel supplier to the US, and also ranked as the fastest-growing last year.

And US brands and retailers appear to be standing by Bangladesh, despite fears that factory safety issues, widespread strikes and disruption across the country as a pay rise for apparel workers was negotiated would lead to a slowdown in orders.

Other countries seeing higher year-on-year shipments during January included Honduras (up 6.8% to 59m SME), Mexico (up 1.4% to 71m SME), India (up 7.5% to 82m SME), and Pakistan (up 11.3% to 57m SME).

India may have benefited from orders diverted from China and Bangladesh according to some analysts, as well as the recovering American economy.

While Pakistan's exports have been helped by better availability of yarns and fabrics amid improved energy supplies to the textile industry.

But declines were reported by Indonesia (-4.3% to 124m SME), Cambodia (-9.05% to 83m SME), and El Salvador (-1.9% to 43m SME).

Indonesia may well have lost some business to Vietnam, as well as pockets of worker unrest, increasingly militant union supporters, and the introduction of a 44% hike in the minimum wage at the beginning of last year to IDR2.2m (US$229).

And a slump in US garment imports from Cambodia may be due to concerns over poor work conditions, and ongoing industrial unrest sparked by poor pay.

In value terms, apparel imports rose 3.3% to $6.84bn year-on-year in January, with gains also led by China (up 3.9% to $2.6bn), Vietnam (up 16.2% to $785m), and Bangladesh (up 3.8% to $482m).

And among the most important regional supply groups were ASEAN, whose shipments edged up 0.2% to 509m SME, and South Asia, which rose 4.6% to 339m SME.

Overall, total textile and apparel imports into the US jumped 9.3% year-on-year in January to 5.04bn SME. Within this, textile shipments surged 14.0% during the month to 2.9bn SME.