Textile and Apparel Items Removed from USTR’s Original Proposed Product List for the Section 301 Action (September 2018)

On September 17, 2018, President Trump formerly announced to take the Section 301 action against another $200 billion worth of imports from China. The additional tariffs will be effective starting September 24, 2018, and initially will be in the amount of 10 percent.  Starting January 1, 2019, the level of the additional tariffs will increase to 25 percent.

The $200 billion imports from China targeted include 5,745 full or partial lines of the original 6,031 tariff lines that were on a proposed list of Chinese imports announced on July 10, 2018. Included among the products removed from the original proposed list are certain consumer electronics products such as smart watches and Bluetooth devices; certain chemical inputs for manufactured goods, textiles and agriculture; certain health and safety products such as bicycle helmets, and child safety furniture such as car seats and playpens.

Below are the textile and apparel related products removed from the original proposed list:

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Data source: CCCT (2018) 

However, the final $200 billion product list still covers several textile and apparel-related products such as backpacks, handbags, purses, wallets, baseball gloves, hats and leather, and fur apparel, as well as textiles and machinery that are used for domestic manufacturing. In general, the final $200 billion product list includes about 20% consumer products (v.s. only 1% in the $50 billion already subject to the 25% additional tariff), 50% intermediary goods and 30% capital goods.

Trade War Looms over New York Fashion Week

Discussion questions:

  • Why does the U.S. textile industry call for additional tariffs on textile and apparel imports from China whereas U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers oppose the tariffs?
  • Based on the trade theories we have learned so far, why or why not would you recommend President Trump to impose 25% punitive tariffs on imports from China?

Appendix: Comments on the Proposed Section 301 Tariffs on Imports from China (August 2018)

For the complete timeline of the U.S. Section 301 tariff action against China, please click HERE

How Have the Apparel Trade Flows Reacted to the Section 301 Tariff Action against China? (updated August 2018)

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  • Apparel products are not subject to the Section 301 tariff yet. Neither the $34 billion product list (subject to the 25% additional tariff rate since July 6, 2018) nor the newly proposed $200 billion product list covers wearing apparel (HS Chapters 61 and 62). The current tariff rates will remain unchanged for now.
  • Nevertheless, the Section 301 tariff action has created huge market uncertainties for U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers. Uncertainty hurts business. The monthly trade flows of U.S. apparel imports from China have also turned more fluctuating this year.
  • Seasonally adjusted data shows that between January-June 2018, the total U.S. apparel imports increased by 1.2 percent in volume and 2.2 percent in value year on year—largely due to the improved U.S. economy which creates more import demand. However, over the same period, the value of U.S. apparel imports from China decreased by 0.8 percent in volume and 2.0 percent in value year on year. Also, in the first half of 2018, China accounted for less than 30% of U.S. apparel imports in value terms, the first time since 2007.

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  • After all, cost concern does NOT seem to be the most influential factor that drives companies to source less from China. The average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from China dropped from $2.5/SME in 2016, $2.38/SME in 2017 to $2.33/SME in the first half of 2018.

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  • In response to the market uncertainty, US importers have already started to accelerate diversifying their sourcing base. Interesting enough, while China’s share in the U.S. apparel import market is declining, there is no single alternative to “Made in China.” Notably, the market shares of Vietnam, Bangladesh, NAFTA and CAFTA only marginally increased in 2018 compared with a year ago. Again, companies’ immediate strategy is to diversify sourcing.
  • In the short run, the volume of US textile and apparel imports from China is likely to go up since US importers are eager to complete their sourcing orders before the tariff hit.  Usually, companies place sourcing orders several months ahead of the season. If the market uncertainty lasts, the real negative impact will be reflected in the trade data later this year or next year. 
  • Last but not least, the Section 301 action is driven by politics. It is insufficient to just calculate the economic costs and benefits; the political costs should be considered as well.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), US Department of Commerce

by Sheng Lu

2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study Released

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The report can be downloaded from HERE

Key findings of this year’s study:

Business challenges facing U.S. fashion companies: Protectionism is the top challenge for the U.S. fashion industry in 2018. More companies worry about increases in production or sourcing cost, too. For the second year in a row, “protectionist trade policy agenda in the United States” ranks the top challenge for U.S. fashion companies in 2018.

Industry outlook: Despite concerns about trade policy and cost, executives are more confident about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry in 2018 than they were a year ago, although confidence has not fully recovered to the level seen in 2015 and 2016. In addition, 100 percent of respondents say they plan to hire more employees in the next five years, compared with 80-85 percent in previous studies; market analysts, data scientists, sustainability/compliance related specialists or managers, and supply chain specialists are expected to be the most in-demand.

U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing strategy: When it comes to sourcing, diversification is key for many companies.

  • Most respondents continue to maintain a diverse sourcing base, with 60.7 percent currently sourcing from 10+ different countries or regions, up from 57.6 percent in 2017.
  • Larger companies, in general, continue to be more diversified than smaller companies.
  • Reflecting the U.S. fashion industry’s growing global reach, respondents report sourcing from as many as 51 countries or regions in 2018, the same as in 2017. Asia as a whole continues to take the lead as the dominant sourcing region. Meanwhile, with the growing importance of speed-to-market and flexibility, the Western Hemisphere is becoming an indispensable sourcing base.
  • Keeping a relatively diverse sourcing base will remain a key element of U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing strategy. Nearly 80 percent of respondents plan to source from the same number of countries, or more countries, in the next two years. However, respondents are equally divided on whether to increase or decrease the number of suppliers they will work with.
  • China plus Vietnam plus Many” has become an ever more popular sourcing model among respondents. And this model is evolving as companies further diversify their China production. In particular, China now typically accounts for only 11-30 percent of companies’ total sourcing value or volume, compared with 30-50 percent in the past.
  • Although China’s position as the top sourcing destination is unshakable, companies are actively seeking alternatives to “Made in China.” This does not seem to be due to concerns about cost, but rather the worries about the escalating U.S.-China trade tensions.
  • Benefiting from the diversification away from China, Vietnam and Bangladesh are expected to play a bigger role as apparel suppliers for the U.S. market in the near future.

Rules of origin and the utilization of trade agreements for sourcing: Rules of origin, and exceptions to the rules of origin, significantly impact whether companies use free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs for sourcing.

  • While FTAs and trade preference programs remain largely underutilized by U.S. fashion companies, more companies are using NAFTA (65 percent), CAFTA-DR (58 percent) and AGOA (50 percent) than in the past two years.
  • Still, it’s concerning that companies often do not claim the duty-free benefits when sourcing from countries with FTAs or preference programs. Companies say this is primarily due to the strict rules of origin.
  • Exceptions to the “yarn-forward” rules of origin, including tariff preference levels (TPLs), commercial availability/short supply lists, and cumulation, are priorities for respondents; 48 percent say they currently use these mechanisms for sourcing. These exceptions provide critical flexibilities that make companies more likely to use FTAs and source from FTA regions.

NAFTA: U.S. fashion companies call for a further reduction of trade barriers and urge trade negotiators to “do no harm” to NAFTA, the most-utilized free trade agreement by respondents.

  • Respondents predominantly support initiatives to eliminate trade barriers of all kinds, from high tariffs to overcomplicated documentation requirements, to restrictive rules of origin in NAFTA and future free trade agreements.
  • More than half of respondents explicitly say NAFTA is important to their business—and they have grave concerns about the uncertain future of the agreement.

Sourcing in sustainable and socially compliant ways: Overall, U.S. fashion companies are making more commitments to sustainability and social responsibility.

  • 85 percent of respondents plan to allocate more resources for sustainability and social compliance in the next two years, in areas including providing training to suppliers and internal employees, adding more employees, and working more closely with third-party certification programs on sustainability and social compliance. However, the availability of operational budget remains the primary hurdle for companies that want to do more.
  • 100 percent of respondents map their supply chains (i.e., keep records of name, location, and function of suppliers), up from 90 percent in 2017. Over 80 percent of respondents track not only Tier 1 suppliers (i.e., factory where the final product is assembled), but also Tier 2 suppliers (i.e., subcontractors or major component suppliers, such as fabrics). However, it’s less common for companies to map Tier 3 (i.e., yarn spinners, finding and trimming suppliers) and Tier 4 suppliers (i.e., raw materials suppliers, such as cattle/pig hides, rubber, cotton, wool, goose down, minerals/metals and chemicals).
  • 100 percent of respondents audit their suppliers for issues including building safety, fire safety, and treatment of workers. The vast majority of respondents (96 percent) currently use third-party certification programs to audit, with both announced and unannounced audits.

The US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study from 2014 to 2017 can be downloaded from HERE

U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry Responds to Trump’s Tariff Announcement against China

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On June 15, 2018, the Trump Administration announced to impose a 25% punitive tariff on a list of Chinese goods based on the results of its Section 301 investigation, which targeted against China’s unfair trade practices related to the forced transfer of American technology and intellectual property. The additional duty will first apply to 818 lines of products on July 6, 2018, which cover approximately $34 billion worth of imports from China. Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said it would issue a final determination on the second set of 284 proposed tariff lines, which cover approximately $16 billion worth of imports from China shortly. The total 1,102 tariff lines targeted by USTR generally focuses on products from industrial sectors that contribute to or benefit from the “Made in China 2025” industrial policy, which include industries such as aerospace, information and communications technology, robotics, industrial machinery, new materials, and automobiles.

In response to the U.S. action, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) quickly announced its proposed countermeasures, including a 25% punitive tariff on approximately $34 billion worth of U.S. soybean, autos, and fruits effective July 6, 2018. China is also ready to impose the punitive tariff on another list of products, which cover approximately $16 billion worth of medical device, chemicals and energy imports from the United States.

The U.S. textile and apparel industry keeps a close watch on the U.S.-China trade dispute since as much as 36% of U.S. textile and apparel imports come from China. In an announcement released on June 16, 2018, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) called a victory that no textile and apparel products are subject to the punitive tariff proposed by USTR. The June 15 USTR list also removes the majority of the textile machinery initially on the retaliation product list back in April 2018. However, U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers remain deeply concerned about Trump’s tariff action and its potential negative economic impacts on the apparel sector.

In contrast, the U.S. textile industry, represented by the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) praised the Trump administration’s tariff announcement. NCTO also called on the Trump administration to include finished textile and apparel products on any future lists of imports from China to be made subject to Section 301 tariffs.  Not surprisingly, NCTO’s proposal is opposed strongly by AAFA and the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, representing U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers. As argued by USFIA, the U.S. tariff rates on apparel and fashion products are already the highest among manufactured goods, reaching 32 percent for man-made fiber apparel and 67 percent for footwear. Any additional tariff would constitute a huge, regressive tax increase and have a negative impact on the American jobs.

Appendix: Timeline of U.S. Section 301 Investigation against China

June 15, 2018: The Trump Administration announced to impose a 25% punitive tariff on a list of Chinese goods based on the results of its section 301 investigation

June 4, 2018: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross concluded his two-day trade negotiation with China in Beijing. A White House statement said “the meetings focused on reducing the United States’ trade deficit by facilitating the supply of agricultural and energy products to meet China’s growing consumption needs, which will help support growth and employment in the United States. The United States officials conveyed President Donald J. Trump’s clear goal for achieving a fair trading relationship with China.” While the announcement didn’t mention the next round, it says that the delegation will “receive guidance on the path forward.”

May 29, 2018: President Trump suddenly announced that the United States will impose a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of goods imported from China containing industrially significant technology, including those related to the “Made in China 2025” program.  The final list of covered imports will be announced by June 15, 2018. The announcement also said that the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR) will continue WTO dispute settlement against China originally initiated in March to address China’s discriminatory technology licensing requirements. Additionally, the United States will implement specific investment restrictions and enhanced export controls for Chinese persons and entities related to the acquisition of industrially significant technology. The list of restrictions and controls will be announced by June 30, 2018.

May 19, 2018: A joint statement released by the White House said that the United States and China had led to an agreement for China to buy more goods and services, including “meaningful increases in U.S. agriculture and energy exports.” The statement also said that both sides attach importance to intellectual property protections, agreed to encourage two-way investment and to strive to create a fair, level playing field for competition, and agreed to engage at high levels on trade and investment issues. Additionally, the statement said that the United States would send a team to China to work out the details of the agreement. However, the statement did not contain a specific target for reducing the $375 billion trade deficits.

April 5, 2018: President Trump announced that he has instructed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to consider $100 billion additional retaliatory tariffs on China, in response to China’s own retaliation against the Section 301 tariffs announced in late March. In a statement released the next day, USTR confirms the proposed new measures. USTR also says that any additional tariffs proposed will be subject to a similar public comment process as the proposed tariffs announced on April 3, 2018. No tariffs will go into effect until the respective process is complete. 

April 3, 2018: USTR released the proposed list of Chinese products to be subject to the retaliatory tariff under the Section 301 action. The proposed list covers approximately 1,300 separate tariff lines and will undergo further review in a public notice and comment process, including a hearing (scheduled at around May 15, 2018). The USTR statement says it will make a final decision on whether to implement the proposed tariff action after the whole process. 

March 26, 2018: USTR filed a WTO case against China’s discriminatory technology licensing requirements (DS542). The US claimed that China’s measures appear to be inconsistent with Articles 3, 28.1(a) and (b) and 28.2 of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). As of April 8, 2018, the European Union, Japan, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia have requested to join the dispute as third parties. According to the WTO rule, China shall enter into consultation with the US no later than April 26, 2018. If the dispute is not resolved by May 25, 2018 (i.e., 60 days after the request for consultation), the United States may request a WTO panel. As of June 17, 2018, the case is still in consultations.

March 22, 2018: President Trump announced his decisions on the actions the Administration will take in response to China’s unfair trade practices covered in the USTR Section 301 investigation of China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer initiated the investigation in August 2017 at the direction of President Trump. In the Memorandum he signed, President Trump directed the US Trade Representative to level tariffs on about $50 billion worth of Chinese imports. 

January 2018: the U.S. Trade Representative Office submitted its annual report on China’s WTO Compliance to U.S. Congress. The report says that “It seems clear that the United States erred in supporting China’s entry into the WTO on terms that have proven to be ineffective in securing China’s embrace of an open, market-orientated trade regime.”

August 14, 2017: President Trump issued a memorandum directing the USTR to determine if China’s policies regarding IPR theft and forced technology requirements “may be harming American intellectual property rights, innovation, or technology development,” and thus warrant USTR action under Section 301of the 1974 Trade Act.

Related reading: The Section 301 Investigation against China Divides the U.S. Textile Industry and U.S. Fashion Brands and Retailers

Outlook 2018: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

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In January 2018, Just-Style consulted a panel of industry leaders and scholars in its Outlook 2018–Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead management briefing. Below is my contribution to the report. All suggestions and comments are most welcome!

1. What do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel industry in 2018, and why?

One of the biggest opportunities facing the apparel industry in 2018 could be the faster growth of the world economy. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global growth forecast for 2018 is expected to reach 3.7 percent, about 0.1 percent points higher than 2017 and 0.6 percent points higher than 2016. Notably, the upward economic growth will be broad-based, including the United States, the Euro area, Japan, China, emerging Europe and Russia. Hopefully, the improved growth of the world economy will translate into increased consumer demand for clothing in 2018.

Nevertheless, from the macroeconomic perspective, oversupply will remain a significant challenge facing the apparel industry in 2018. Data from the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) shows that, while the world population increased by 21.6 percent between 2000 and 2016, the value of clothing exports (inflation-adjusted) surged by 123.5 percent over the same period. Similarly, between 2000 and 2016, the total U.S. population increased by 14.5 percent and the GDP per capita increased by 22.2 percent, but the supply of apparel to the U.S. retail market surged by over 67.8 percent during the same time frame. The problem of oversupply is the root of many challenges faced by apparel companies today, from the intense market competition, pressure of controlling production and sourcing cost, struggling with excessive inventory and deep discounts to balancing sustainability and business growth.

2: What’s happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2018, and what can apparel firms and their suppliers do to stay ahead?

The 2017 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) earlier this year, provides some interesting insights into companies’ latest sourcing strategies and trends. Based on a survey of 34 executives at the leading U.S. fashion companies, we find that:

First, most surveyed companies continue to maintain a relatively diversified sourcing base, with 57.6 percent currently sourcing from 10+ different countries or regions, up from 51.8 percent last year. Larger companies, in general, continue to have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. Further, around 54 percent of respondents expect their sourcing base will become more diversified in the next two years, up from 44 percent in 2016; over 60 percent of those expecting to diversify currently source from more than 10 different countries or regions already. Given the uncertainties in the market and the regulatory environment (such as the Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda), companies may use diversification to mitigate potential market risks and supply chain disruptions due to protectionism.

Second, although U.S. fashion companies continue to seek alternatives to “Made in China” actively, China’s position as top sourcing destination remains unshakable. Many respondents attribute China’s competitiveness to its enormous manufacturing capacity and overall supply chain efficiency. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the most common sourcing model is shifting from “China Plus Many” to “China Plus Vietnam Plus Many” (i.e. China typically accounts for 30-50 percent of total sourcing value or volume, 11-30 percent for Vietnam and less than 10 percent for other sourcing destinations). I think this sourcing model will likely to continue in 2018.

Third, social responsibility and sustainability continue to grow in importance in sourcing decisions. In the study, we find that nearly 90 percent of respondents give more weight to sustainability when choosing where to source now than in the past. Around 90 percent of respondents also say they map their supply chains, i.e., keeping records of name, location, and function of suppliers. Notably, more than half of respondents track not only Tier 1 suppliers, suppliers they contract with directly, but also Tier 2 suppliers, i.e., supplier’s suppliers. However, the result also suggests that a more diversified sourcing base makes it more difficult to monitor supply chains closely. Making the apparel supply chain more socially responsible, sustainable and transparent will continue to be a hot topic in 2018.

3: What should apparel firms and their suppliers be doing now if they want to remain competitive further into the future? What will separate the winners from the losers?

I assume many experts will suggest what apparel firms should change to stay competitive into the future. However, the question in my mind is what should companies keep doing regardless of the external business environment? First, I think companies should always strive to understand and impress consumers and control their supply chains. Despite the growing popularity of e-commerce and the adoption of transformative new technologies, the fundamental nature of apparel as a buyer-driven business will remain the same. Second, companies should always leverage their resources and stay “unique,” no matter it means offering differentiated products or value-added services, maintaining exclusive distribution channels or keeping the leadership position in a particular niche market. Third, apparel firms should always follow the principle of “comparative advantage” and smartly define the scope of their core business functions instead of trying to do everything. Additionally, winners will always be those companies that can take advantage of the mega-development trends of the industry and be willing to make long-term and visionary investments, both physical and intangible (such as human talents).

4: What keeps you awake at night? Is there anything else you think the apparel industry should be keeping a close eye on in the year ahead? Do you expect 2018 to be better than 2017, and why?

I think the apparel industry should keep a close eye on the following issues in 2018:

  • The destiny of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): The potential policy change to NAFTA means so much to the U.S. textile and apparel industry as well as suppliers in other parts of the world. Notably, through a regional textile and apparel supply chain facilitated by the agreement over the past 23 years, the NAFTA region has grown into the single largest export market for U.S. textile and apparel products as well as a major apparel sourcing base for U.S. fashion brands and retailers. In 2016, as much as half of U.S. textile and apparel exports went to the NAFTA region, totaling US$11billion, and U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada exceeded US$3.9billion. Understandably, if NAFTA no longer exists, sweeping changes in the trade rules, such as import duties, could significantly affect the sourcing and manufacturing behaviors of U.S. textile and apparel companies and consequentially alter the current textile and apparel trade patterns in the NAFTA region. For example, Mexico’s focus on basic apparel items suggests that U.S. importers could quickly source from elsewhere if duty savings under NAFTA are eliminated.
  • The possible reaching of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP): Even though RCEP is less well-known than the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), we should not ignore the potential impact of the agreement on the future landscape of textile and apparel supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region. One recent study of mine shows that the RCEP will lead to a more integrated textile and apparel supply chain among its members but make it even harder for non-RCEP members to get involved in the regional T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific. This conclusion is backed by the latest data from the World Trade Organization (WTO): In 2016, around 91 percent of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from 86 percent in 2006. The more efficient regional supply chain as a result of RCEP will further help improve the price competitiveness of apparel made by “factory Asia” in the world marketplace. Particularly in the past few years, textile and apparel exports from Asia have already posted substantial pressures on the operation of the textile and apparel regional supply chain in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Automation of apparel manufacturing and its impact on the job market: Recall my observations at the MAGIC this August, several vendors showcased their latest technologies which have the potential to automate the cut and sew process entirely or substantially reduce the labor inputs in garment making. The impact of automation on the future of jobs is not a new topic, but the apparel industry presents a unique situation. Globally, over 120 million people remain directly employed in the textile and apparel industries today, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), for quite a few low-income and lower-middle income countries such as Bangladesh, Gambia, Pakistan, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia, as much as over 70 percent of their total merchandise exports were textile and apparel products in 2016. Should these labor-intensive garment sewing jobs in the developing countries were replaced by machines, the social and economic impacts will be consequential. I think it is the time to start thinking about the possible scenarios and the appropriate policy responses.