14281 Thu, 04/17/2008 - 2:50pm
It may be a statistical blip, an early irrelevance or the start of something big, but January’s data (the latest available) on the United States’ imports of non-apparel textiles show a slight decline in the rate of both dollars and units, compared with the same month a year ago. A similar situation holds for apparel.
The reason January’s figures compel more than a passing glance is that they appear to confirm a trend that began in 2005.
In units, for example, although U.S. imports in 2005 were 6.8 percent above those imported the previous year, that growth was less than half the pace of 2004.
The unit rate slowed even more in 2006, down to 2.7 percent. And last year, U.S. imports of non-apparel textiles grew less than 1 percent.
Measured in dollars, the picture was similar if not identical, as the rate of growth slowed steadily from 2005 to 2007. And by January, import growth stalled almost completely, at $1.853 billion.
Among the top exporters of non-apparel textiles to the United States, only China showed an increase in units in January. And China’s increase was less than 3 percent.
Pakistan, the second-largest exporter in January, shipped 172 million units here during the month, down 20 percent. India’s shipments were down 2 percent, Mexico’s down 7 percent, Canada’s down 26 percent.
The slowdown has not gone unnoticed abroad. A commentary on the situation appearing in The Indian Express, reprinted on India’s Yarns and Fibers Exchange Web site on Jan. 19, noted that “The worst is not yet over for [India’s] textile industry. … With the U.S. accounting for nearly 35 percent of the total textile exports from [India], any slowdown in its biggest market will have direct consequences back home.” The story went on to note that “The falling consumer spending in the U.S. would affect retailing and drag down their [the U.S.’s] textile import volumes from India.” One likely consequence, the author wrote, was the layoff of some 150,000 Indian workers.
It has become a cliche that when the United States sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. The impending recession, which some observers, like Warren Buffett, argue is already here, gives credence to that aphorism, at least in the realm of global textiles. — Nathan Weber