Bangladesh exports to the US were down again in September

Bangladesh exports to the US were down again in September

The volume of US apparel imports saw a downturn month-on-month in September as the back-to-school season came to an end. Within the top three supplier countries, gains were posted by Vietnam and China, while Bangladesh booked its fourth consecutive monthly decline.

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 was down 4.4% month-on-month in September to 2.58bn square metre equivalents (SME), compared with 2.07bn SME booked in August.

The figures, however, show the volume of apparel imports were up 2.1% against September last year, and up 2.2% to $7.55n in value.

In terms of individual supplier countries, half of the top-ten recorded a year-on-year increase, with Vietnam booking the largest growth.

China – the largest supplier of apparel to the US – saw shipments increase 6.5% year-on-year to 1.28bn SME. Shipments, however, were down 1.5% month-on-month from the 1.30m SME recorded in August. The second-largest supplier, Vietnam, booked growth of 9.8% to 295m SME – this was an improvement on August's decline of of 1.7%.

Bangladesh, ranked number three in the top-ten league table, saw its exports to the US decline 1.6% year-on-year in September to 153m SME – the country's fourth monthly consecutive decline. Cambodia saw shipments edge up 0.8% year-on-year to 107m SME, while India's increased 1.5% to 77m SME.

Of the remaining top-ten supplier countries, El Salvador reported the largest year-on-year decrease of 14.1% to 60m SME, while Honduras recorded a fall of 11.6% to 87m SME. Nicaragua, meanwhile, booked the third largest drop at 9.5% to 44m SME. Mexico booked a year-on-year decline of 7.6% to 67m SME, while Indonesia's shipments were up 2.2% to 96m SME.

Apparel volumes - 12-month overview

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Source: The Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA)

Year-to-date and six-year overview

While monthly trade data is often volatile, with big swings from one month to the next, a broader view of the year shows the volume of total US apparel and textile imports was up 2.7% in the January to September period to 48.51bn SME, from 47.21bn SME in the same period last year. Within this, textiles grew 4% to 27.89bn SME, while apparel shipments edged up 1.1% to 20.61bn SME.

In value terms, total US apparel and textile imports were down 0.2% to $79.82bn in the year-to-date, from $79.95bn in the same period a year ago. Apparel imports dropped 1.4% to $60.76bn, while textiles dropped 4% to $19.06bn.

Only four of the top ten apparel supplier countries booked growth during the first nine months of the year, with Vietnam seeing the largest increase at 6.5% to 8.71bn SME.

Mexico booked the second highest gain, at 6% to 2.67bn SME. Imports from China, meanwhile, were down 3.9% to 20.42bn SME – although the country remains by far the biggest supplier of apparel to the US with a 41.5% share of the market. Bangladesh, the third-largest supplier with a share of 6.9%, booked the largest drop in shipments of 5.6% compared with last year to 3.94bn SME.

Cambodia meanwhile, reported a 1.6% drop year-on-year to 1.62bn SME, but this was an improvement on last month's 1.40bn SME.

Taking a broader look at the data over a six-year period from 2010 to 2016, Vietnam is the only country in the top ten to have seen a steady increase in import volumes to the US, growing from 1.91bn SME in 2010 to 3.35bn SME in 2016, increasing its share of total imports from 7.72% to 12.45%.

China's imports have fluctuated over this period, from 10.4bn SME in 2010, falling to 9.74bn SME a year later, before reaching a peak of 11.38bn SME in 2015, before falling again in 2016 to 11.17bn SME. The country has lost marginal market share, from 41.98% in 2010 to 41.50% last year.

Cambodia, Mexico and Pakistan, meanwhile, are all exporting less to the US than they were six years ago. Cambodia fell from 947.1m SME to 903m SME in 2016, decreasing its share of the total from 3.83% in 2010 to 3.35% last year.

Apparel volumes - 5-year overview

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Source: The Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA)

Facts behind the figures

Vietnam has benefited as producers and buyers diversify their supply chains, helped by its low labour costs and its industry focus on specialisation, modernisation, and increasing value added. In volume terms the country increased its share of US imports last year, rising from 11.52% in 2015 to 12.45% in the 12 months to December 2016.

Manufacturers in Vietnam stand to gain from improved access to the EU import market once the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement comes into force, as well as increased foreign direct investment that flowed into the country's textile and clothing sector ahead of the now-abandoned Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

The country has seen a massive 48.3% surge in total garment, textile, fibre and yarn exports in the first six months of the year, with the industry expected to reach its export target of US$31bn for the year. In August, Vietnam's National Wage Council proposed the minimum wage for 2018 will rise 6.5% to between VND2.76m and VND3.98m ($121-175) per month.

The government recently said it wants to elevate the country's clothing manufacturing sector from its current low-cost model to an added value sector that includes design and branding. This is intended to help offset competition from neighbouring Cambodia and Myanmar, China, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

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While there continue to be concerns that increasing wages are undermining the competitiveness of China's garment production on the world stage, the latest figures continue to confirm its appeal to apparel buyers as rising prices are largely being offset by productivity gains. No other 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. A new survey of supply chain executives appears to back this up.

The country also continues to lead the way when it comes to efficiency and infrastructure. Data on China's apparel imports to the US last year show the country's prices are now lower than they were six years ago. 

And Chinese companies are continuing to innovate. Manufacturing giant TianYuan Garment Company – the largest producer of apparel for Adidas worldwide – is to make T-shirts in the US using a fully automated robotic workline.

The government is also cracking down on pollution and is understood to have shut down tens of thousands of factories, including garment and textile facilities. The national effort follows several months of investigations by the country's Environment Bureau to determine which factories are not following environmental laws. The investigation has resulted in the closing of an estimated 40% of all China's factories in order to lower air pollution levels.

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