Vietnam's apparel imports increased 58 percent to 120 million square meter equivalents for the month from January 2007, as Chinese clothing shipments fell to 609 million SME in the same time period, according to a U.S. Commerce Department report on Tuesday.
The biggest declines in apparel from China were in cotton trousers and underwear, and in socks. Total textile and apparel imports from China fell 3.1 percent to 1.6 billion SME in January.
Meanwhile, apparel imports from Bangladesh fell 3.6 percent to 121 million SME.
China's decline drove down overall apparel imports by 7 percent to 1.6 billion SME last month, the largest year-to-year percentage decrease in apparel imports since February 2006. The top five suppliers of apparel in January were China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Honduras and Mexico. China also leads in combined apparel and textile imports, followed by Pakistan, Mexico, India and South Korea.
Julia Hughes, senior vice president of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, attributed the decline in total apparel imports to weaker consumer demand associated with a faltering U.S. economy.
The swelling trade deficit with China, which hit $256 billion last year — the apparel and textile trade deficit with China in 2007 was $36.6 billion but narrowed slightly in January to $2.98 billion — has prompted calls on Capitol Hill and by industry groups for a more aggressive stance against the country's imports. Critics argue that the U.S. needs to impose restraints on China's import growth, which industry groups and many lawmakers argue is fueled by an undervalued currency and subsidized imports.
Two Senate bills targeting China's undervalued currency have been tied up in Congress for months, with Democratic leaders holding back on taking action. The U.S. textile industry, which has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the last decade as imports surged, has said one of its top priorities this year is to pressure the Bush administration and Congress to extend or replace quotas on 34 categories of apparel and textiles that expire at the end of the year.