What Will Happen to the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry if NAFTA Is Gone?

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Since its taking effect in 1995, NAFTA, a trade deal between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, has raised heated debate regarding its impact on the U.S. economy. President Trump has repeatedly derided NAFTA, describing it as “very, very bad” for U.S. companies and workers, and he promised during his campaign that he would remove the United States from the trade agreement if he could not negotiate improvements.

The U.S. textile and apparel (T&A) industry is a critical stakeholder of the potential policy change, because of its deep involvement in the regional T&A supply chain established by the NAFTA. Particularly, over the past decades, trade creation effect of the NAFTA has significantly facilitated the formation of a regional T&A supply chain among its members. Within this supply chain, the United States typically exports textiles to Mexico, which turns imported yarns and fabrics into apparel and then exports finished apparel back to the United and Canada for consumption.

So what will happen to the U.S. T&A industry if NAFTA no longer exists? Here is what I find*:

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First, results show that ending the NAFTA will significantly hurt U.S. textile exports. Specifically, the annual U.S. textile exports to Mexico and Canada will sharply decline by $2,081 million (down 47.7%) and $351 million (down 14%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015.Although U.S. textile exports to other members of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), will slightly increase by $42 million (up 1.5%), the potential gains will be far less than the loss of exports to the NAFTA region.

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Second, results show that ending the NAFTA will significantly reduce U.S. apparel imports from the NAFTA region. Specifically, annual U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada will sharply decrease by $1,610 million (down 45.3%) and $916 million (down 154.2%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015 (H2 is supported). However, ending the NAFTA would do little to curb the total U.S. apparel imports, largely because U.S. companies will simply switch to importing more apparel from other suppliers such as China and Vietnam.

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Third, ending NAFTA will further undercut textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States rather than bring back “Made in the USA.” Specifically, annual U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing will decline by $1,923 million (down 12.8%) and $308 million (down 3.0%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015 (H3 is supported). Weaker demand from the NAFTA region is the primary reason why U.S. T&A manufacturing will suffer a decline.

These findings have several important implications. On the one hand, the results suggest that the U.S. T&A will be a big loser if the NAFTA no longer exists. Particularly, ending the agreement will put the regional T&A supply chain in jeopardy and make the U.S. textile industry lose its single largest export market—Mexico. On the other hand, findings of the study confirm that in an almost perfectly competitive market like apparel, raising tariff rate is bound to result in trade diversion. With so many alternative suppliers out there, understandably, ending the NAFTA will NOT increase demand for T&A “Made in the USA,” nor create more manufacturing jobs in the sector. Rather, Asian textile and apparel suppliers will take away market shares from Mexico and ironically benefit most from NAFTA’s dismantlement.

*Note: The study is based on the computable general equilibrium (CGE) model developed by the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP). Data of the analysis came from the latest GTAP9 database, which includes trade and production data of 57 sectors in 140 countries in 2015 as the base year. For the purpose of the study, we assume that if NAFTA no longer exists, the tariff rate applied for T&A traded between NAFTA members will increase from zero to the normal duty rate (i.e. the Most-Favored-Nation duty rate) in respective countries.

by Sheng Lu