EU Textile and Apparel Industry and Trade Patterns (Updated April 2021)

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The EU region as a whole remains one of the world’s leading producers of textile and apparel (T&A). The value of EU’s T&A production totaled EUR137.3 bn in 2019, down around 2% from a year ago (Note: Statistical Classification of Economic Activities or NACE, sectors C13, and C14). The value of EU’s T&A output was divided almost equally between textile manufacturing (EUR68.7bn) and apparel manufacturing (EUR68.6bn).

Regarding textile production, Southern and Western EU, where most developed EU members are located such as Germany, France, and Italy, accounted for nearly 75% of EU’s textile manufacturing in 2019. Further, of EU countries’ total textile output, the share of non-woven and other technical textile products (NACE sectors C1395 and C1396) has increased from 19.2% in 2011 to 23.0% in 2017, which reflects the on-going structural change of the sector.

Apparel manufacturing in the EU includes two primary categories: one is the medium-priced products for consumption in the mass market, which are produced primarily by developing countries in Eastern and Southern Europe, such as Poland, Hungary, and Romania, where cheap labor is relatively abundant. The other category is the high-end luxury apparel produced by developed Western EU countries, such as Italy, UK, France, and Germany.

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It is also interesting to note that in Western EU countries, labor only accounted for 21.7% of the total apparel production cost in 2017, which was substantially lower than 30.1% back in 2006. This change suggests that apparel manufacturing is becoming capital and technology-intensive in some developed Western EU countries—as companies are actively adopting automation technology in garment production.

Because of their relatively high GDP per capita and size of the population, Germany, Italy, UK, France, and Spain accounted for nearly 60% of total apparel retail sales in the EU in 2020. Such a market structure has stayed stable over the past decade.

Data source: UNcomtrade (2021)

Intra-region trade is an important feature of the EU’s textile and apparel industry. Despite the increasing pressure from cost-competitive Asian suppliers, statistics from UNComtrade show that of the EU region’s total US$73.8bn textile imports in 2019, as much as 54.6% were in the category of intra-region trade. Similarly, of EU countries’ total US$204.0bn apparel imports in 2019, as much as 37.4% also came from other EU members. In comparison, close to 98% of apparel consumed in the United States are imported in 2019, of which more than 75% came from Asia (Eurostat, 2021; UNComtrade, 2021).

Regarding EU countries’ textile and apparel trade with non-EU members (i.e., extra-region trade), the United States remained one of the EU’s top export markets and a vital textile supplier (mainly for technical and industrial textiles). Meanwhile, Asian countries served as the dominant apparel sourcing base outside the EU region for EU fashion brands and retailers.  

The EU textile and apparel industry is not immune to COVID-19. According to the European Apparel and Textile Federation (Euratex), the EU textile and apparel production feel 9.3% and 17.7% respectively in 2020 from a year ago.

2021 hopefully will be a year of recovery and growth for the EU textile and apparel industry. According to Euratex, the EU Business Confidence indicator of March 2021 gained momentum, with a confirmed upward trend in the textile industry (+3.8 points), and a modest recovery in the clothing industry (+1.6 points). However, Euratex also noted that EU textile and apparel companies still face daunting challenges and uncertainties in 2021, ranging from the rising raw material price, increasing transportation cost, to political instability in some key sourcing destinations (such as China and Myanmar).

by Sheng Lu

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

7 thoughts on “EU Textile and Apparel Industry and Trade Patterns (Updated April 2021)”

  1. I have gathered many takeaways after reading this post. While learning about this in class, I found it very interesting how the EU really likes to only source and trade within EU countries. Although the EU has many more different countries with different resources, I find this an extremely smart tactic. By only trading within the EU it puts less reliance on other parts of the world to manufacture your products and help your business run. This is something I think the U.S. needs to look into. What if we were able to source from different states and set up apparel manufacturing throughout the region? Could this be something to look into? Would this be beneficial? Why or why not? I am also impressed with how involved EU fashion companies are within their supply chain. In one of our readings about Hugo Boss, the company has many requirements and standards that needs to be met by their supply chain. On top of that, they even provided manuals of how things were to be operated. This is another tactic the U.S. needs to jump on board with. If U.S. fashion companies had these set standards within their supply chain, they wouldn’t be involved in issues like Rana Plaza.

  2. April ’21 trade pattern statistics for the EU Textile and Apparel Industry remain consistent with the intra-region theories. The EU divides production between developed, western European countries for roughly 75% of textile production and developing, Eastern and Southern European countries for apparel manufacturing – both of which we see shifting towards capital and technology-intensive processes. Noting the intra-regional trade patterns, the U.S. textile and apparel industry should not push the new Biden administration to conclude the negotiation of a US-UK trade deal. Consumers in the EU prefer locally made textiles and apparel, in which premium products made in the U.S. could compete neither with prices nor quality.

  3. In 2021 how do you think EU textile and apparel industry will grow and recovery from Covid-19. What are some suggested ideas that could help them?

  4. It is interesting to me that the US is the 5th top textile supplier to the EU. Also, our share decreased from 4% in 2019 to to 1.9% in 2020. We are competing directly with China’s textile manufacturing. China’s share of textile imports to the EU increased from 37.5% in 2019 to 64.4% in 2020. These numbers are crazy to me! Why did their share double in just one year? As a developed country in post-maturity, how is the United States being overpowered by China? China is increasingly manufacturing textiles and has the capacity to be world leaders in textiles and apparel.

  5. I think it is interesting to see how heavily the EU relies on one another for trade. It is a good thing that they are all pretty developed and are taking advantage of the fact that they are all so close to one another. I also did not realize that the EU had as much textile manufacturing as it does. Since we have mainly talked about China and the US, I did not realize the other places produce textiles. So are China, the EU, and the US all competing for their textiles to be used? Will the top exporter change in the coming years? Will there ever be a trade agreement between all 3?

  6. I think there are many reasons why the EU only primarily relies on itself for sourcing and trading. There are many benefits to this. One, I am sure that it is much less expensive than it would be from other parts of the world. I remember reading in another article that if the US sourced much closer, for instance Mexico, that it would be much less expensive for them. Along with this, it also increases speed and production, and allows them to have a faster speed to market. I am sure that the EU takes into considerations some of these components within their decisions to source and trade in the EU. Another thing that was not surprising to me was the top retail sales countries within the EU. Germany, Italy, UK, Spain and France account for 60% of EU total apparel retail sales. The reason I am not shocked by this is because of these countries population, and tourism that occurs. These countries do very well in the retail business, and have people coming in and out of their country all of the time.

  7. I think it is interesting how the EU primarily sources and trades within EU countries. I think there are several advantages to this tactic that maybe other countries should start to implement in their own trading and sourcing. By sourcing and trading primarily within EU countries, EU countries do not face the burden of a tariff which can make things more expensive for consumers and retailers. The proximity of sourcing and trading within EU countries allows EU countries to receive items quicker and have a shorter lead time which allows them to be on top of the trends and get items in their store faster than competitors. As we have discussed in class, near-shoring is something that is projected to increase during/after COVID-19 so it appears EU is ahead of other countries for near-shoring. Although it appears intra region trading for textiles and apparel has decreased in EU over the years, I think we will see an increase in the next year due to COVID-19.

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