Earlier this year, Wal-Mart Store Inc. announced its commitment to buy $250 billion “Made in the USA” products (including textiles and apparel) over the next 10 years ($50 billion annually) with the hope to “help spark a revitalization of U.S.-based manufacturing” and “create jobs in America”. According to the Hoover’s, Wal-Mart’s cost of goods (i.e. sourcing cost for merchandise sold) totaled $358 billion in fiscal year 2013, suggesting $50 billion will account for around 10-14% of its total sourcing portfolio.
Wal-Mart’s campaign has received positive feedback from the US textile and apparel industry. As reported by the WWD, the U.S. textile industry sees Wal-Mart’s movement an encouraging and “sincere commitment”. Bill Jasper, the outgoing chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) and CEO of Unifi Inc believed that “manufacturing in general across the United States is in a more favorable position than we’ve seen for some time” and “this is an environment for growth in U.S. textile manufacturing”. As an example, Unifi Inc has spent millions of dollars upgrading its equipment and expanding the company’s US-based cloth mill. However, Bill also realizes the market risks involved in the investment decision, which may not happen without Wal-Mart’s “assurance” through the $250 billion program.
However, to fully take advantage of Wal-Mart’s program is not without obstacle. On top of them, Walmart requires qualified apparel for the program has to be “100 percent made in the United States”. However, the reality is there is more apparel being made in the Western Hemisphere by countries such as Mexico and those in the Caribbean Basin Regions than there is in the United States. As put by Bill, “We’re seeing more of a resurgence of ‘made in the region’ as opposed to Made in USA…If you at look the growth we see in apparel, much of that is in Central America and to a lesser extent Mexico. It does drive growth in yarn and fabrics here in the U.S., which are feed for those garments.”
It is also interesting to compare Wal-Mart’s $250 billion “Made in USA” program with its role in the “Crafted with Pride Campaign” launched in the 1980s (our case study 3). During that campaign, Wal-Mart initially pledged that “our entire management and merchandising staff is committed to Buy American program” and it did cut imports by 20% and purchased $197.3 million of merchandise from domestic suppliers in 1985 (Minchin, 2012). However, for the commercial reasons, later on Wal-Mart more and more relied on imports to support its global expansion and “everyday low price” business model. The “betrayal” of Wal-Mart largely contributed to the eventual failure of the campaign.
What will be the destiny of the 21st century version of the “Crafted with Pride Campaign”? Is Wal-Mart really committed to “Made in USA” or rather the more price competitive “Made in USA” today attracts the attention of Wal-Mart? If implementation of new free trade agreements such as TPP and TTIP switches the cost balance of domestic sourcing versus global sourcing again, will War-Mart repeat its record in history? Maybe only time will tell…
This past week, our class moved to the topic of trade policy, which as usual turned out to be one of the most challenging and “least exciting” chapters for our students. A common question in students’ mind is (and probably for some professors in the textile and apparel field as well): as a fashion major, why do I need to care about trade policy?
The answer is straightforward: textile market is shaped by rules—trade policy. Trade policy affects the availability of T&A products in the market in terms of quantity, price and speed. Trade policy also affects T&A companies’ access to the market, both domestic and foreign. Simply look at the clothing and shoes we wear daily: if they are imported, very likely the price we pay includes 10-30% additional tax (tariff). Even the clothing is “made in USA”, we should realize that the survival of US domestic apparel manufacturing could be the result of protection by the exact same trade policy which makes imported competing products 10—30% more expensive than otherwise in the US market.
Yet, trade policy does not happen naturally. Trade policies are deliberately made by policymakers and strongly influenced by industry players. Two things I hope our students can realize: first, the T&A industry cannot afford ignoring trade policy. Think about this case: if the US yarn manufacturers did not actively advocate “yarn-forward” rules of origin to be adopted in NAFTA and CAFTA, what will happen to their fate right now? Vice versa, how will the commercial interests of apparel retailers/importers be affected if they stop voicing themselves and simply leave the trade protectionism forces to influence trade policymakers? As the saying goes: if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. To certain extent, there is no good or bad trade policy, but winners and losers.
Second, understanding trade policy making is about understanding the real world. Trade policymaking is a painful balancing process like trying to “breathe and suck at the same time”.Not only different interests groups may have conflicting views on a specific trade policy, but also different policymakers may have their respective philosophies and priorities. As we mentioned in the class, agencies in the executive branch such as the US Trade Representative Office and the Commerce Department put national interests and international obligations of the United States at its heart whereas the Congress often times gives preferences to regional, sectoral and party interests. A full understanding of T&A trade policy thus requires familiarity with what’s going on in this unique industry sector, knowledge about its key players as well as having a big picture vision in mind. For example, without recognizing the value of becoming a WTO member for China, it will be difficult to appreciate why it was willing to allow US to restrict its apparel exports from 2003 to 2008 on a discriminatory basis (T-shirt book, part III).
Our FASH students shall be encouraged to jump out of the narrowly-defined fashion world, because no industry operates as an island. Instead, the T&A industry is part of the world economy and shaped by the “rest” of the world economy.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman testified on Obama’s 2014 trade policy agenda before the House Ways and Means Committee on April 3. Issues concerning the textile, apparel and the footwear industry were raised three times during the 3-hour hearing. However, it seems the Congress is much divided on how to deal with the T&A sector deemed as “sensitive” in the FTA talks.
(1h:42’)Mike Thompson (D-CA) asked Froman to reevaluate the value of including the “yarn-forward” rules of origin (RoO) in the TPP. Thompson suggested that this rule only affects a small proportion of the US apparel imports nowadays (Note: according to Froman, it was $13 billion annually or 17% of the total US apparel imports) and no longer meets the needs of the US outdoor apparel industry which demands more flexible RoO in supporting of their business model. In response, Forman said that “the USTR’s approach to T&A is always being to ensure to strike a balance that helps the domestic producers continue to produce while allowing importers to import products that serve customers…”
(2h:06’) Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) asked Froman to reduce the trade barriers (tariff and NTB) on footwear imports, arguing that less than 1% of the footwear consumed in the US nowadays is domestically produced. He said that the high tariff rates both retard the ability of the US footwear industry to concentrate on those parts of the value chain that it enjoys competitive advantages and hurt the interests of the US consumers. In response, Forman said that footwear has been a sensitive and key issue to the US and among other TPP members. According to Forman, USTR has been working both with the domestic producers and the importers to develop an approach hoping to achieve the right balance that the domestic producers can continue to compete and also the importers can bring in high quality products (from overseas) for the US consumers. Additionally, Forman referred to the footwear industry an “outstanding area” in the TPP negotiation and said that discussion among all partners will continue.
Last but not least, (2h:30’) Bill Pascrell(D-NJ), also the chair of the house textile caucus, reiterated the importance of the yarn-forward RoO to the US textile industry and asked Froman to ensure that the USTR will “seek the longest possible duty phrase out for the most sensitive textile items” in the TPP negotiation. In his reply to Pascrell, Forman said that his team will work with all stakeholders of the US T&A industry to fully understand what these “sensitive textile items” are and will use tools like the “phrase out period” and “short supply list” to strike a right balance. Pascrell also expressed the concerns of the US textile industry about Vietnam’s wanting of immediate access to the US apparel market after the implementation of the TPP. However, Forman declined to give any concrete promise, just saying the USTR commits to create the “maximum number of jobs in the US” through the trade talks[Note: textile industry jobs? Apparel retail jobs?].
In addition to the T&A, other issues mentioned in the hearing include TPA, GSP, TAA, IPR, SPS & TBT, TTIP, SOE, TiSA, ITA and WTO.
Full hearing can be viewed here
95% of the consumers live outside the US, implying huge market opportunities for the US textile and apparel industry. Among the leading emerging markets for U.S. companies are China, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand. From watching the short videos below (prepared by the US Commerce Department), how do you see the importance of these markets? And what are the unique local business environment and culture in your view?