Apparel and textile imports were down 1.8 per cent in May compared with last year, the Commerce Department reported. For the year-to-date, overall imports increased 2.7 per cent.

Charles Bremmer of the American Textile Manufacturers Institute said the declines were caused by high levels of imports last year. He said that imports were up 19.2 per cent in the first half of 2000 and 11 per cent in the second half.

Bremmer expects imports to turn around in the second half once inventory levels are reduced.

Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) countries, whose growth was flat in May, are causing concern to importers.

"CBI is not growing like we had anticipated," said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. "We had hoped that duty and quota benefits [under the Caribbean Basin Partnership Act] would mean that trade is surging but instead Honduras is flat and the Dominican Republic is down for the year-to-date."

The one bright spot in the CBI is Guatemala, which was up 21 percent for the year-to-date, Hughes said.

"It shows there is a slowdown," Hughes acknowledged. But she expects imports to turn around once the holiday shipping season hits its stride in June.