Declining import levels in December were expected given the drop in consumer demand at retail, said Charles McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services.

“This is a reflection of falling sales,” McMillion said. “Everybody has huge inventories.”

The top five apparel importers in December were China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Honduras and Indonesia. China also topped the list of high-volume textile importers, followed by Pakistan, India, Mexico and South Korea.

Imports from China slid 8.8 percent to 1.4 billion SME compared with December 2007. The drop was fueled by a steep 15.9 percent decline in textile shipments to 844 million SME. Apparel imports from China to the U.S. increased 5.9 percent in December to 519 million SME.

Shipments of textiles and apparel from Canada fell 30.6 percent to 80 million SME. Imports from Mexico dropped 16.1 percent to 173 million SME, and shipments from Indonesia fell 11.3 percent to 113 million SME.

Vietnam continued to grow its share of textiles and apparel imports, increasing shipments by 19.2 percent to 154 million SME. Bangladesh increased shipments 18.9 percent to 129 million SME, while India’s imports were up 7.4 percent to 201 million SME.

For the year, combined textile and apparel imports from China fell 3.6 percent to 20.6 billion SME, after sliding 0.7 percent in 2007. Apparel shipments from China declined 3.1 percent from a year earlier to 7.8 billion SME, and textile imports dropped 4 percent to 12.8 billion SME.
Canada’s shipments declined 29.1 percent to 1.4 billion SME. Apparel and textile imports from Mexico fell 13.3 percent to 2.6 billion SME, and shipments from South Korea dropped 14.2 percent to 1.7 billion SME.

The volume of apparel and textile shipments from Vietnam increased 20.6 percent in 2008 to 1.8 billion SME. Imports from Honduras increased 9.4 percent to 1.4 billion SME. Shipments from India increased 4.3 percent to 2.8 billion SME for 2008.

The overall trade gap narrowed to $39.9 billion in December from a revised $41.6 billion in November.

The volume of world trade is “plunging,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. Export and import volumes declined in December.

“The clear message is that global trade activity has collapsed, as the world economy sinks deeper into recession,” Gault said.