Clothes exporters to the US face tough new competition from Africa, Chi-chu Tschang reports China’s apparel exporters to the United States, already hit hard by competition from Bangladesh, Honduras and Mexico, are facing a new threat from cheap garments made in other developing countries.
Encouraged by quota-free benefits, US garment importers are turning their attention towards Africa in their continual quest for lower costs.
The situation is not grim for China’s quota-bound apparel manufacturers, but few industry experts see them regaining their No 1 ranking as the top source country for US apparel imports soon – if ever.

Washington has been trying to provide domestic garment retailers with a wider range of trade partners by expanding the list of countries allowed to ship apparel to the US quota-free, experts say.

“The main factor, if you really want to put this in a nutshell, is that we have that many more countries to look at as opposed to how it was years ago when the main focal point was China,” said Ralph Martinez, import director at One Step Up, a New York-based garment import-export company.

“We looked at the numbers for the mid-1990s, and China’s share of the world’s total textile and clothing market peaked,” said Huang Yiping, Salomon Smith Barney’s China economist.

Mexico overtook China as the leading exporter of textiles and apparel to the US in 1996. China has not recovered the top spot since.

Clothing exports have traditionally accounted for about 65 per cent of the total value of China’s textile and apparel exports.

In the first five months of this year, the top five countries from which the US imported apparel were Mexico, Honduras, Bangladesh, China and Hong Kong, according to the latest US Department of Commerce statistics.

China is still a powerhouse in the US apparel market. Experts said it would still be No 1 if the figures from China and Hong Kong were combined.

The US imported US$1.52 billion worth of