Through the first seven months of 2015, the latest U.S. Census Bureau data available, sweater imports credited to the South Florida Customs district were valued at $669.58 million. Through the same seven months in 2005, the total was $705.86 million. Not a large decrease, of course. But it’s 5.14 percent lower than a decade ago at a time when overall imports have increased 59.46 percent.
This column is part of a continuing series on South Florida’s top 10 imports, with previous columns about gold, refined petroleum products, aircraft, cellphones, fish fillets and T-shirts. I skipped over a couple of leading imports related to returned exports — for repair and after repair — because while they are important in dollar value, there’s just not a lot to say about them, given the limited information available about them from Census data.
There’s plenty to say about sweaters, an apparel item that, like the eighth most valuable import, T-shirts, tells well the story of globalization and shifting supply chains. This one also tells another story, and that’s where the asterisk comes in.
If I use a different Census data set than what I traditionally use for this column, sweater imports over the last decade are not actually down. They’re up 16.91 percent. That’s still slower growth than the average for all imports, but it’s not a decrease.
I can usually sidestep the issues created between the two data sets, one for the roughly four dozen Customs districts and one for the more than 450 airports, seaports and border crossings that make up the Customs districts. The South Florida Customs district, for example, is anchored by PortMiami, Port Everglades and Miami International Airport.
Without going too “deep into the weeds,” that’s because imports are treated differently between the two data sets. Imports can physically “enter” the country in one Customs district — the data set I traditionally use, and use here — and “clear Customs” in another. It happens with South Korean motor vehicle imports that enter in Los Angeles but clear Customs in Dallas-Fort Worth.
And it happens with sweaters from Honduras, Haiti and a number of other countries that enter in South Florida but clear Customs in Wilmington, North Carolina. The difference this year is a not insignificant $279.53 million, with $142.23 million of that difference from Honduras and another $63.90 million from Haiti.
U.S. rank: While sweaters are the ninth most valuable import into South Florida, they are the 26th most valuable import into the United States. In South Florida, they are the second most valuable apparel import; nationally, sweaters are the most valuable apparel import, just ahead of leather shoes.
The value of sweaters imported into the United States through July is $7.37 billion, a record pace, a 2.46 percent increase over the same seven months of 2014 — and a 15.06 percent increase over the total from a decade ago.
Although U.S. sweater imports are up from the total a decade ago, they have not risen as fast as overall imports, which have increased 40.03 percent. It’s not that Americans are wearing fewer sweaters; it’s primarily two other factors. First, relative to sweaters, people are using more cellphones, computer monitors and TVs, and medicine — and those imports are consequently rising more quickly in total value. Second, some sweater production has shifted to lower-cost Asian markets from Central America, the Caribbean and, particularly, Mexico.
Vietnam, for example, accounted for 3.40 percent of all U.S. sweater imports a decade ago, ranking fifth in the world. This year, it is accounting for 14.56 percent and ranking second only to China, at 31.94 percent of the total. Mexico has fallen from fourth to No. 13 in that time. In Central America, the biggest loser has been Guatemala, which has seen market share fall from 6.27 percent to 3.92 percent.
South Florida trade: While South Florida imports of sweaters have declined over the last decade, they are up 12.68 percent from the first seven months of 2014. At the same time, overall South Florida imports are down 4.26 percent.
But total sweater imports credited to South Florida have only been lower than the 2015 total of $669.58 million total three times in the last decade. The record pace was set in 2011, when the total was $852.70 million.
Where they originate: Over the course of the last decade, sweater imports clearing Customs in South Florida have shifted slightly by country. Honduras has long been the primary source for sweater imports into South Florida, capturing more than 30 percent of the total all but two years in the last decade, with the 36.76 percent this year a record piece of the pie.
Guatemala accounted for 24.37 percent a decade ago, but only 14.70 percent this year. That is reflected in the national total quoted above for the Central American nation. Peru has also given back market share, falling from 8.58 percent a decade ago to 2.70 percent this year. Gaining in that time have been Haiti and Nicaragua, which currently rank fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Nicaragua’s market share of South Florida sweater imports has grown from 7.57 percent a decade ago to 11.72 this year. Similarly, Haiti has grown from 8.57 percent to 11.68 percent.
Importance to South Florida: Sweaters were South Florida’s fifth most valuable import a decade ago. Sweaters accounted for a record 3.99 percent of all South Florida imports at that time. This year, that percentage is 2.38 percent.
South Florida competition: South Florida’s ranking and market share have fallen over the last decade, from a No. 3 ranking to No. 4, falling behind the Customs district with the Port of Savannah, and from 11.02 percent to 9.08 percent. The leading Customs district is, not surprisingly, Los Angeles, followed by New York City.
Coming next: The final installment in the series of columns on South Florida’s top 10 imports will focus on medical devices, covering everything from syringes and needles to large expensive imaging equipment.
Reach Ken Roberts, president of World City, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @tradenumbers.
Sweaters clearing Customs in South Florida
July 2015 YTD
SOURCE: WORLDCITY ANALYSIS OF U.S. CENSUS BUREAU DATA