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Trade and trade policy: leading clothing suppliers to the USA
published in Issue 2, 2nd Quarter 2008
US clothing imports rose in value by 3.2% to US$73.9 bn in 2007. In terms of volume, imports were up by 3.5% to 23.3 bn sme (square metres equivalent). In the first four months of 2008, however, imports were down compared with the first four months of 2007. Indeed, clothing imports fell by 3.7% in value and by 2.9% in volume. A major reason for the drop in trade during the first four months of 2008 was a weak US economy.
China was the largest clothing supplier to the USA in 2007 and during January- April 2008. However, imports from the country fell during the latter period because of a decline in demand in the US market and a deterioration in the competitiveness of Chinese manufacturers in the US market. Imports from Vietnam, on the other hand, have grown strongly since the country joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on January 11, 2007. Indeed, many clothing buyers which placed orders with Chinese manufacturers in 2007 appear to have shifted their sourcing to Vietnam during January- April 2008. Furthermore, several Chinese producers have set up new operations in Vietnam in search of lower labour costs since the beginning of 2008.
Clothing imports from four other supplying countries—namely Bangladesh, Cambodia, Honduras and Indonesia—grew in 2007 and in January-April 2008. But imports from Mexico and Thailand fell during these periods.
In terms of product categories, the ten most popular clothing items in 2007 were women's and girls' cotton knit shirts, women's and girls' cotton trousers, men's and boys' cotton knit shirts, men's and boy's cotton trousers, men's and boys' cotton non-knit shirts, women's and girls' man-made fibre knit shirts, cotton and man-made fibre baby garments, cotton underwear, men's and boys' man-made fibre trousers and man-made fibre bras.
Several trade policy announcements have been made since the beginning of 2007. Some policies aim for improved collaboration between important groups of clothing producing countries—such as those made by governments in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan—while others aim to protect domestic industries from low cost Asian imports, including government policies made in the USA and Mexico.
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