Regional Supply Chain Remains an Important Feature of Global Textile and Apparel Trade (Updated: November 2017)

Regional supply chain (or production-trade network, RPTN) or refers to a vertical industry collaboration system between countries that are geographically close to each other. Within a regional supply chain, each country specialized in certain portions of production or value-added activities based on their respective comparative advantages to maximize the efficiency of the whole supply chain.

There are three primary textile and apparel (T&A) regional supply chains in the world today:1

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Asia: within this regional T&A supply chain, more economically advanced Asian countries (such as Japan, South Korea, and China) supply textile raw material to the less economically developed countries in the region (such as Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam). Based on relatively lower wages, the less developed countries typically undertake the most labor-intensive processes of apparel manufacturing and then export finished apparel to major consumption markets around the world.

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Europe: within this regional T&A supply chain, developed countries in Southern and Western Europe such as Italy and Germany serve as the primary textile suppliers. Regarding apparel manufacturing in the European Union,  products for the mass markets are typically produced by developing countries in Southern and Eastern Europe such as Poland and Romania, whereas high-end luxury products are mostly produced by Southern and Western European countries such as Italy and France. Furthermore, a high portion of finished apparel is shipped to developed EU members such as UK, Germany, France, and Italy for consumption.

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America: within the region, the United States serves as the leading textile supplier, whereas developing countries in North, Central and South America (such as Mexico and countries in the Caribbean region) assemble imported textiles from the United States or elsewhere into apparel. The majority of clothing produced in the area is eventually exported to the United States for consumption.

Data from the World Trade Organization (WTO) shows that regional supply chain remains an essential feature of today’s global textile and apparel trade.  Notably, three trade flows are worth watching:

First, Asian countries are increasingly importing more textiles from within the region. In 2016, around 91.2% of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from 86.8% in 2006. This change reflects the formation of a more integrated T&A supply-chain in Asia. The more efficient regional supply chain also helps improve the price competitiveness of apparel made by “factory Asia” in the world marketplace. Particularly in the past few years, T&A exports from Asia is posting substantial pressures on the operation of the T&A regional supply chains in the Western Hemisphere.

Second, the intra-region T&A trade in EU remains stable. In 2016, 64.1% of EU countries’ textile imports and 55.6% of EU countries’ apparel imports came from within the EU region. Over the same period, 73.3% of EU countries’ textile exports and 81.6 % of their apparel exports also went to other EU countries.

Third, the Western-Hemisphere T&A supply chain, which involves countries in North, South and Central America, is facing substantial challenges from the increasing competition from Asian T&A exporters. In 2016, only 29.0% of North, South and Central American countries’ textile imports and 18.6% of their apparel imports came from within the region, a record low in the past ten years. Meanwhile, in 2016 Asian countries supplied 60.1% of textiles and 73.7% of clothing imported by countries in the Western Hemisphere, a record high in history. Understandably, if regional free trade agreements, such as NAFTA and CAFTA-DR, no longer exist, it would be even more difficult for the Western-Hemisphere T&A supply chain to survive. The potential losers of the collapse of the Western-Hemisphere T&A supply chain will include not only US textile exporters but also apparel exporters in North, South and Central America. Notably, in 2016, 89.3% of apparel exported by countries in the Western Hemisphere were destined for the region.  

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Data Source: World Trade Organization (2017)

by Sheng Lu