Congestion at US West Coast ports was seen near "breaking point" earlier this year

Congestion at US West Coast ports was seen near "breaking point" earlier this year

With the usual post-holiday lull this year coupled with near breaking point congestion at West Coast ports, it's no surprise that apparel imports into the US declined in January. As shipments fell from six of the top-ten supplier countries, it was those further down the ranking - Honduras and El Salvador - that recorded stand-out performances during the month.  

Latest figures from the Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show the volume of apparel imports from all sources fell 4.2% year-on-year in January, following a 5% increase in December. Imports amounted to 2.05bn square metre equivalents (SME), down on the 2.14bn SME recorded in January last year.

When it comes to individual supplier countries, there was a marked difference in the performance between the top two. While shipments from China - the largest supplier of apparel to the US, with a 42.5% share of the market – declined 7.8% to 848m SME in January, those from nearest rival Vietnam saw growth of 0.9% to reach 241m SME, compared to a year earlier.

Even so, China remains a compelling source for apparel buyers as rising prices are largely being offset by productivity gains. There is also the fact that no country can match China in terms of the size of its supply base, its range of skills, its quality levels, its product variety and the completeness of its supply chain.

Vietnam, meanwhile, continues to benefit as both producers and buyers diversify their supply chains. 

Shipments from China were lower than December (-9.7%), while Vietnam was 12.6% higher than the previous month.

Bangladesh, which sits at number three in the top ten league table and saw its apparel shipments increase for the first time in ten months in December, recorded an 8.4% decline to 152m SME in January. But interestingly, shipments from the country were 25.6% higher than December last year.

Declines were also booked by Indonesia (down 12.3% to 109m SME), Cambodia (down 6.3% to 78m SME), Mexico (down 4.9% to 67m SME) and Pakistan (down 11.3% to 50m SME). Cambodia has seen continued strikes and health and safety issues such as faintings, as well as a 28% rise in the minimum wage to $128, which came into effect on 1 January. 

But Honduras, number five in the table, saw its apparel shipments grow 17.7% to 69m SME, also up from its 2.5% rise in December. India and El Salvador booked year-on-year increases of 4.4% to 86m SME and 10.7% to 48m SME respectively.

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

Meanwhile, total US apparel and textile imports dropped 5.6% in January, amounting to 4.76bn SME, down from 5.04bn SME in the same period a year ago, with textiles down 6.7% to 2.71bn SME.