US apparel imports from China declined 12% in May

US apparel imports from China declined 12% in May

While the majority of the top-ten garment supplier countries to the US continued to book gains in April, with double-digit increases coming from Vietnam and Bangladesh, it was China that weighed on overall apparel import growth - reporting its second decline this year.

The latest figures from the Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show the volume of US apparel imports from all sources climbed 1.2% year-on-year in April, down from its 24.5% surge in March. Imports reached 1.91bn square metre equivalents (SME), up from 1.89bn SME April last year.

When it comes to individual supplier countries, there was a marked difference in the performance between the top two. Shipments from China - the largest supplier of apparel to the US - declined 12% to 570m SME in April - its second decline this year, after it recorded a 7.8% fall in January.

However, those from nearest rival Vietnam continued to grow - up 19.4% to 259m SME, compared to the same month last year. Bangladesh, which is ranked number three in the top ten league table, saw apparel shipments increase 16.5% to 153m SME.

India was also a winner in April, booking a 10.8% gain to 105m SME. When it comes to imports from some of the other large suppliers to the US, year-on-year growth was also reported by Indonesia (up 3.6% to 120m SME); Honduras (up 1.9% to 80m SME); Cambodia (up 5.3% to 93m SME); Mexico (up 9% to 83m SME); and Pakistan (up 0.8% to 51m SME).

At the other end of the scale, however, was El Salvador, which saw shipments slump 19.2% year-on-year to 55m SME.

Facts behind the figures
Although salaries of Chinese clothing makers have increased, resulting in more expensive Chinese textiles and clothing manufacturing, the country continues to be the industry leader.

According to just-style’s latest briefings on sourcing shifts, experts believe China’s garment sector is consolidating rather than declining. With the country’s 10,916 apparel manufacturers (with annual sales above CNY20m) churning out 29.6bn pieces in 2014, up 1.6% year-on-year, no country can match China in terms of the size of its supply base, range of skills, quality levels, product variety and the completeness of its supply chain.

And China is expected remain the apparel production powerhouse for the foreseeable future. A report by McKinsey & Company says this is due to the country's "dominance of the global apparel sourcing market, the mix change toward Chinese consumers, and the substantial size of its growing middle class".

Meanwhile, Vietnam has benefited as both producers and buyers diversify their supply chains. The country's 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.

And Bangladesh's clothing industry continues to build on its momentum as a low-cost sourcing destination despite factory safety issues. Since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013, two major remedial plans together with the government have worked to resolve issues over safety and worker rights, including the closure of some garment factories.

Global investors continue to call on apparel brands and retailers to reveal more information on steps taken to improve conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh.

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 increased 7% between January and April to 19.44bn SME from 18.17bn SME in the same period last year. Within this, textiles rose 8.6% to 11.23bn SME, while apparel shipments were up 4.9% to 8.22bn SME.

Movement within the top three apparel supplier countries during the four months shows China increased 5% to 2.97bn SME, Vietnam grew 14.6% to 1.02bn SME, and Bangladesh rose 9.1% to 630m SME.

Gains were also recorded by Honduras (up 4.2% to 336m SME); India (up 8.5% to 391m SME); and Mexico (up 3.3% to 312m SME).

However, declines were recorded by Indonesia (down 5.1% to 457m SME); Cambodia (down 3.7% to 356 SME); and El Salvador (down 1.9% to 235m SME). Shipments from Pakistan were flat at 199m SME.