India booked the largest growth in apparel shipments to the US in February

India booked the largest growth in apparel shipments to the US in February

February is historically the slowest month when it comes to US apparel imports, and this year was no exception – with a lull as retailers prepared to replenish stocks for the spring season and factories in Asia shut down for the Lunar New Year. One surprise, however, was India emerging at the head of the pack with a double-digit increase in shipments during the month. 

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 dropped 13.03% month-on-month in February to 2.27bn square metre equivalents (SME). The figures for February also show a 0.4% drop in volume against the same month last year – but 1.8% growth in value terms year-on-year to US$6.65bn. 

In terms of individual supplier countries, just four of the top-ten recorded a year-on-year increase in shipment volumes in February, with India booking the highest growth.

China – the largest supplier of apparel to the US – saw shipments fall 1.99% year-on-year to 907m SME. Imports from the country were down by 17% month-on-month from the 1.1bn SME recorded in January.

The second-largest supplier, Vietnam, booked a year-on-year increase of 6.06% to 334m SME – this compares to January's 50% surge in shipments to 402m SME.

Bangladesh, ranked number three in the top-ten US apparel supplier league table, booked the third-highest growth, with exports up 5.94% to 177m SME. Behind Bangladesh and Vietnam was Pakistan which booked a 3.81% rise to 41m SME.

Of the remaining countries, El Salvador reported a 0.95% decrease to 59m SME, while Honduras, Mexico, and Indonesia booked declines of 3.05%, 6.97%, and 3.10% respectively. Cambodia booked the largest fall of 15.05% to 76m SME.

Combined textile and apparel imports, meanwhile, grew 1.77% year-on-year to 5.38bn SME, and in value terms by 1.1% to $8.74bn. Textiles alone, meanwhile, recorded growth of 3.41% to 3.11bn SME, but in value terms were down 1% to $2.09bn. 

Apparel volumes - 12-month overview

FebruaryMarchAprilMayJune July AugustSeptemberOctober NovemberDecemberJanuaryFebruary
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Source: The Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA)

Year-to-date and six-year overview

In value terms, total US apparel and textile imports were up 4.87% to $18.73bn in the year-to-date, from $17.86bn in the same period a year ago. 

Within this, apparel imports grew 5.12% to $14.22bn, while textiles were up 4.08% to $4.52bn.

In value terms, seven of the top ten apparel supplier countries booked growth during the first two months of the year, with Vietnam once again seeing the largest increase at 11.27% to $2.3bn.

Apparel volumes (m SME) – 8-year overview

20112012201320142015201620172018% change y-o-y
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Source: The Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA)

Facts behind the figures

India is the largest cotton producer in the world and has a large and low-cost labour pool; however, its garment industry faces difficulties, according to the resource by just-style strategic planning tool. Although apparel exports remain an important part of India's GDP, they have been dropping for the last two years; and because of diversification in India's overall exports, apparel's share has declined.

In February, reports surfaced that India was preparing to announce World Trade Organization (WTO) compliant measures to boost its apparel and textile exports and bring its exporters to a level playing field with those in Bangladesh and Vietnam. The news followed a request by the US last year for dispute settlement consultations with the Government of India at the WTO to challenge export subsidy measures that benefit Indian exporters in a range of industries, including textiles and apparel.

Earlier this month, European and international business associations representing apparel and footwear brands and importers voiced concerns over the US's plans to terminate India's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) status and urged it to extend talks to reach a "mutually agreeable" solution. 

Despite a fall in shipments both year-on-year and month-on-month, China remains a tough competitor. When it comes to US apparel import volumes, China has by far the largest market share which, in 2018, stood at 41.92%.

Despite concerns about sourcing from China amid an intensifying trade war with the US, the country dominates apparel exports thanks to the size of its supply base, its range of skills, its quality levels, its product variety and the completeness of its supply chain. China's apparel per unit prices were also the lowest of all the top-10 US supplier countries in 2018 – falling for the sixth year running.