Shipments of garments from the Caribbean, Mexico and Asia were behind the

bulk of the double-digit jump in U.S. apparel imports during the first six months of the year.

U.S. importers bought 4.5 billion square meters of apparel from overseas markets between January and June of 1995, an 18 percent jump from the 3.8 billion square meters imported during the same period of 1994. Textile products, on the other hand, only increased by 7.9 percent, to nearly 4.7 billion square meters, up from 4.3 billion square meters during the first six months of last year."Obviously we're concerned about the imports and the effect on U.S. jobs," said Larry Martin, president of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association of Arlington, Va. "But if there are increases, we're pleased that they're coming from the CBI and Mexico, that the increases are coming from this hemisphere, where there is the involvement of American companies."

Mr. Martin was referring to U.S. companies that have set up offshore production facilities in the Caribbean Basin countries and Mexico to take advantage of the 807 offshore assembly program. The program allows garments to be assembled in a region from fabric made and cut in the United States and then re-exported to the United States with duty paid only on the value added in assembly.

In addition, apparel imports from Mexico have increased since the North American Free Trade Agreement cut duties and tariffs between the two trading partners starting in 1994. Mexico jumped from being the United States' sixth- largest supplier of textiles and apparel in 1992 to fourth place in 1994.

But Mr. Martin said the association remains concerned with the large increase in apparel imports. Annual increases have averaged only about 9 percent over the past two years.

The dollar value of textile and apparel imports for the sixth-month period totaled nearly $21 billion, up 19 percent over the $17.6 billion imported between January and June of 1994, according to figures supplied by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

During the first six months of this year, Mexico's apparel exports showed some of the strongest growth, as it shipped 358 million square meters to U.S. markets, up from 206 million square meters the same period a year earlier.

The Dominican Republic, Honduras and El Salvador were among the top three suppliers in the Caribbean Basin region, which combined shipped 944 million square meters of apparel to U.S. stores during the six-month period, up about 30 percent from last year.

Tiny Bangladesh, under fire earlier this year by a consumer group for employing children in its apparel and textile factories, shipped 274 million square meters, up from 202 million the year before.

Textile imports grew more slowly, increasing 7.9 percent, to total nearly 4.7 billion square meters during the first six months, up from 4.3 million square meters last year. But while yarns jumped nearly 7 percent and fabrics by only 1.5 percent, imports of so-called fabricated products increased by 19.2 percent, to 1.6 billion square meters. Fabricated products include home furnishings, towels, sheets, tents and industrial cords.

"Those products are subject to fewer quotas," said Don Foote, director of international agreements in Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel. Mr. Foote added that Canada continues to be the United States' leading supplier of textiles.

"They're right next door and they don't have any quotas," he added.

China, subject to quotas which are filling rapidly before the calendar year is out, saw its U.S.-bound exports of textiles and apparel decline by nearly 1 percent, to 1 billion square meters, during the period. China's quotas filled up quickly last year and its shipments to the United States actually dropped by 3 percent, to 2 billion square meters.