Apparel Imports Slow from China and Grow from Vietnam


Textile and Apparel Trade Balance Report: General Imports. Jan. 2013 through Feb. 2014 (in millions of dollars)

As wages rise for apparel factory workers in China, less and less clothing is being imported from that country into the United States.

Apparel imports were practically flat for the 12-month period ending in February this year, inching up only 0.26 percent to $29.6 billion.

Many U.S. apparel companies and designers are shifting their production to Vietnam, where minimum wages are $73 to $111 a month, depending on the region. That is more than half of the $300 monthly minimum wage in China’s industrial hub of Shenzhen, close to Hong Kong.

During the 12-month period ending in February, apparel imports from Vietnam were up 14.2 percent to $8.3 billion.

Many U.S. clothing makers note that Vietnam has very skilled workers who are responsible for making apparel the country’s No. 1 export industry.

Manufacturers are looking ahead to when Vietnamese-made clothing can be brought in duty free because it is part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a group of 11 countries working on a free-trade pact with the United States.

U.S. apparel imports from Bangladesh, another low-wage country, were up 9.3 percent to $4.9 billion.

Mexico, which in 2009 was among the top four apparel providers for the United States but is now No. 7, saw its exports to the United States flatline even though the two countries have a free-trade agreement. Mexico’s apparel exports totaled $3.68 billion during the 12-month period ending in February