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The US trade deficit in footwear rose 4% to US$23.8bn last year on the back of a sizeable increase in imports and a marginal drop in exports, an annual trade report has shown.

The figures are included in ‘Shifts in US Merchandise Trade 2013’, the latest annual round-up of trade data and analysis from the US International Trade Commission (USITC).

It shows US footwear exports fell 4% to US$789m – a second consecutive yearly decline from a five-year peak of $832m in 2011 – whereas imports jumped 4% to $24.6bn to supply over 98% of domestic demand.

China remained by far the largest supplier of footwear to the US, accounting for 69% of all footwear imports. Its share, however, was down from 72% in 2012 as other Asian producers, particularly Vietnam and Indonesia, increased their respective shares of the US market at China’s expense.

Because the footwear industry is highly labour intensive, many US producers have shifted production to low-cost countries, maintaining branding and design capabilities in the US.

Although US exports to most leading export destinations fell in 2013, exports to Vietnam (primarily footwear parts) rose $21m, up by 54%, while those to Canada rose $9m, or 8%.

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By GlobalData

Consumer spending on footwear rose by 2% between 2012 and 2013, and sales at shoe stores increased 1.3% during the same period, down from 5% growth between 2011 and 2012. Industry sources report that expenditures on fashion footwear categories – namely outdoor and men’s casual shoes – experienced the largest growth, at 10% and 7%, respectively.

The boost in sales of casual shoes reflects an apparent style trend “from business and dress attire to an ‘anything goes’ look with work attire”. 

Footwear export overview
Exports account for a significant source of revenue for domestic footwear manufacturers, totalling an estimated 32% of industry revenues in 2013.

US production of footwear is largely concentrated in niche markets – rubber/fabric footwear, men’s work shoes, and plastic/protective footwear – where products are technologically advanced, meet particular health, defence, and safety standards, and have garnered a reputation for quality.

Footwear parts, including removable insoles, heel cushions, and gaiters, made up just slightly over one-fourth of US exports in 2013, and are generally used to assemble final goods overseas in low-cost countries such as China and Vietnam.

Exports of footwear to Canada grew by $9m, or 8% to $125m in 2013, whereas exports to Korea fell for the first time since 2009, down sharply by $17.6m, or 17% to $83.7m.

Other significant markets for US footwear exports in 2013 were Japan, China, and Mexico. Exports to all three of these markets fell in 2013.

Click here for a separate snapshot of US textile and apparel trade and sourcing.