US apparel imports from Vietnam have risen by 21.9% in the first nine months of this year, bucking an overall 2.96% slowdown in total imports during the same period as consumers continue to cut their spending.

Between January and September, US textile and apparel imports from Vietnam rose to $3.35bn from $4.08bn a year earlier - putting the country fourth on the list of the US' suppliers, after China, Mexico and India.

Total US imports of these products, however, fell 2.06% to $7.079bn from $7.295bn in the same period last year.

Also in the top five, US apparel imports from China were down 0.24% in the first nine months of 2008, while apparel imports from Mexico fell 11%. India and Indonesia were essentially unchanged (down 0.93% and up1.16% respectively).

The only strong performer besides Vietnam was Bangladesh, with an increase of 8.4% to $2.67bn.

According to the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, US imports of apparel from Vietnam in 2008 could exceed $5.0bn, even assuming a 20% overall US reduction in apparel imports in the final three months of the year.

At this rate, Vietnam could become the second largest textile and garment exporter to US in 2008, after China.

But AmCham adds that the outlook for Vietnam's shipments to the US in the final three months of this year is also hampered by labour issues (shortages of workers, sharply increasing labour costs, and unexpected work stoppages) and infrastructure problems, such as the lack of deepwater ports and other transport infrastructures, and electric power.