The Evolving Sourcing Strategies of U.S. Fashion Apparel Companies: Discussion Questions from FASH455

#1 Do you think it is a good move for companies to embrace the “China plus Vietnam plus Many” sourcing strategy, especially after learning about the working conditions in developing countries such as Bangladesh? Do you think this could backfire on companies?

#2 Why or why not do you think sourcing from Asia will become less attractive relative to sourcing from the Western Hemisphere due to the increasing importance of “speed to market” in U.S. fashion apparel companies’ sourcing decisions?

#3 As sustainability becomes more prevalent throughout the fashion industry, will there be a way to lower costs, while still creating garments that are better for the environment, and have transparency with consumers about factory conditions? Why?

#4 According to the article, “more and more well paid and high quality jobs in the US fashion industry will depend on international trade and the global value chain.” How do you feel about the quality of the US fashion industry depending so heavily on factors outside of the US? Do you see this changing in the future, and if so explain how.

#5 Most U.S. apparel companies have already shifted their businesses to non-manufacturing activities such as design, branding, sourcing and retailing. Is it still meaningful to give so much attention to apparel manufacturing in the U.S.?

#6 When purchasing your garments from either online stores or brick-and-mortar stores, do you look to see what country your goods are produced in and on a scale from 1 to 10 with 1 being the least important 10 being the most important, how significant is it to you to know where your goods are coming from and how much of a factor does that play into your buying decision?

#7 If it is predicted that more US fashion companies’ sourcing could be from nearshore due to automation technology, what would happen if they technology was implemented in a place where there were lower labor costs (for the people operating the machines)? Would the US continue to use nearby manufacturers or would they resort to wherever is cheaper?

#8 Do you think “made in the USA” apparel is truly telling the whole story of the supply chain? Do you think that it is truly more ethical? Or do you think it is just a way for retailers to charge more for apparel? If producing products in the U.S. is much more expensive than importing products from other countries, how are companies such as Walmart able to sell products with labels that say “Made in U.S.A”?

[For FASH455: 1) Please mention the question number in your comments; 2) Please address at least TWO questions in your comments]

State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment, and Trade Patterns (Updated March 2019)

The size of the U.S. textile and apparel industry has significantly shrunk over the past decades. However, U.S. textile manufacturing is gradually coming back. Notably, the value added of U.S. textile manufacturing reached $18.88 billion in 2017, the highest level since 2009.

Nevertheless, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.15% in 2017 from 0.57% in 1998, as the case in most advanced economies with a mature industrial system.

It is also important to note that U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is changing in nature. For example, textiles had accounted for over 80% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2017, up from around 50% in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, clothing had only accounted for 12% of the total U.S. fiber consumption in 2012 (the latest data available), whereas the manufacturing of non-apparel textile products in the United States, such as industrial and technical textiles, has been growing particularly fast over the past decade.

Manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. In 2018, U.S. textile manufacturing (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel manufacturing (NAICS 315) lost 2,100 and 4,800 jobs respectively. However, improved productivity is one critical factor behind the job losses.

Regarding international trade, the United States remains a leading textile exporter and apparel importer overall. Interesting enough, both the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports enjoyed much faster growth in 2018 than in the previous years. Notably, for the first time since 2001, the U.S. textile sector (NAICS 313) experienced a trade deficit ($172 million) rather than a trade surplus. Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit in apparel (NAICS 315) reached $86,097 million in 2018, up nearly 6% from a year ago. These unusual trade patterns could be partially affected by the U.S.-China tariff war, which didn’t seem to be helpful with solving the trade deficit concerns.

by Sheng Lu

Related reading:

No-Deal Brexit: UK’s Import Tariff Rates for Apparel Products

The UK government on March 13, 2019 released the temporary rates of customs duty on imports if the country leaves the European Union with no deal. In the case of no-deal Brexit, these tariff rates will take effect on March 29, 2019 for up to 12 months.

According to the announced plan, around 87% of UK’s imports by value would be eligible for zero-tariff in the no-deal Brexit scenario.

Specifically for apparel products, 113 out of the total 148 tariff lines (8-digit HS code) in Chapter 61 (Knitted apparel) and 145 out of the total 194 tariff lines (8-digit HS code) in Chapter 62 (Woven apparel) will be duty-free. However, other apparel products will be subject to a Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) tariff rate ranging from 6.5% to 12%.

Meanwhile, the UK will offer preferential tariff duty rates for apparel exports from a few countries/programs, including Chile (zero tariff), EAS countries (zero tariff), Faroe Islands (zero tariff), GSP scheme (reduced tariff rate), Israel (zero tariff), Least Developed Countries (LDC) (zero tariff), Palestinian Authority (zero tariff), and Switzerland (zero tariff).

On the other hand, the EU Commission said it would apply the Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) tariff rates on UK’s products in the no-deal Brexit scenario rather than reciprocate.  

Appendix: UK’s MFN tariff rate for apparel products (HS Chapters 61-62) in the case of no-deal Brexit.

New CRS Report: Textile and Apparel Sectors Disagree on Certain Provisions of the Proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Agreement

The study is available HERE

Key findings:

While U.S. textile manufacturers and the apparel and retail industries have expressed overall support for the newly reached US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA or NAFTA2.0), textile producers and the apparel sector still hold divergent views on certain provisions:

Textile “Yarn-Forward” Rule of Origin

USMCA vs. NAFTA1.0: The USMCA will continue to adopt the “yarn-forward” rules of origin. The USMCA will also newly require sewing thread, coated fabric, narrow elastic strips, and pocketing fabric used in apparel and other finished products to be made in a USMCA country to qualify for duty-free access to the United States.

U.S. textile industry: U.S. textile manufacturers almost always support a strict “yarn-forward” rules of origin in U.S free trade agreements and they support eliminating exceptions to the “yarn forward” rule as well. The National Council of Textile Organization (NCTO) estimates that a yearly USMCA market for sewing thread and pocketing fabric of more than $300 million.

U.S. apparel and retail industries: The U.S. apparel industry opposes “yarn forward” and argues that apparel should be considered of North American origin under a more flexible regional “cut and sew” standard, which would provide maximum flexibility for sourcing, including the use of foreign-made yarns and fabrics.

Tariff Preference Levels (TPL) for Textiles and Apparel

USMCA vs. NAFTA1.0: With some adjustments, the USMCA would continue a program that allows duty-free access for limited quantities of wool, cotton, and man-made fiber apparel made with yarn or fabric produced or obtained from outside the NAFTA region, including yarns and fabrics from China and other Asian suppliers.

U.S. textile industry: The textile industry contends China is a major beneficiary of the current NAFTA TPL mechanism, and it strongly pushed for its complete elimination in the USMCA.

U.S. apparel and retail industries: U.S. imports of textiles and apparel covered by the tariff preference level mechanism supply 13% of total U.S. textile and apparel imports from Canada and Mexico. Apparel producers assert that these exceptions give regional producers flexibility to use materials not widely produced in North America.

Viewpoints on other Provisions in USMCA

U.S. textile industry: The U.S. textile industry also opposes the USMCA newly allows visible lining fabric for tailored clothing could be sourced from China or other foreign suppliers, and it would permit up to 10% of a garment’s content, by weight, to come from outside the USMCA region (up from 7% in NAFTA1.0). The U.S. textile industry also welcomes that the USMCA would add specific textile verification and customs procedures aimed at preventing fraud and transshipment. Additionally, the U.S. textile industry is also pleased that the USMCA would end the Kissell Amendment. The Kissell Amendment is an exception in NAFTA that allows manufacturers from Canada and Mexico to qualify as “American” sources when Department of Homeland Security (DHS) buys textiles, clothing, and footwear using appropriated funds (about $30 million markets for textiles, clothing, and shoes altogether).

U.S. apparel and retail industries: Apparel importers are of concern that the USMCA continue to incorporate the existing NAFTA short supply procedure, which is extremely difficult to get a new item approved and added to the list, limiting their flexibility to source apparel with inputs from outside North America.

Finally, the report argues that “Regardless of whether the USMCA takes effect, the global competitiveness of U.S. textile producers and U.S.-headquartered apparel firms may depend more on their ability to compete against Asian producers than on the USMCA trade rules.

Related reading:

Cambodia May Lose Its Eligibility for European Union’s Everything But Arms (EBA) Program

Last week in FASH455, we discussed the unique critical role played by textile and apparel trade in generating economic growth in many developing countries. The developed countries also use trade policy tools, such as trade preference programs, to encourage the least developed countries (LDCs) making and exporting more apparel. However, a debate on these trade programs is that they have done little to improve the genuine competitiveness of LDCs’ apparel exports in the world marketplace, but instead have made LDCs rely heavily on these trade programs to continue their apparel exports. Here is one more example:

With growing concerns about “the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia”, in a statement made on February 12, 2019, the European Union says it has started the process that could lead to a temporary suspension of Cambodia’s eligibility for EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) program. Specifically, the EU process will include the following three stages:

  • Stage 1: six months of intensive monitoring and engagement with the Cambodian government;
  • Stage 2: another three months for the EU to produce a report based on the findings in stage 1
  • Stage 3: after a total of twelve months in stages 1 & 2, the EU Commission will conclude the procedure with a final decision on whether or not to withdraw tariff preferences; it is also at this stage that the Commission will decide the scope and duration of the withdrawal. Any withdrawal would come into effect after a further six-month period.

However, the EU Commission also stressed that launching the temporary withdrawal procedure does not entail an immediate removal of Cambodia’s preferential access to the EU market, which “would be the option of last resort.”

Developed in 2001, the EBA program establishes duty-free and quota-free treatment for all Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the EU market. EBA includes almost all industries other than arms and armaments. As of February 2019, there are 49 EBA beneficiary countries.

The EBA program has benefited the apparel sector in particular given clothing accounts for the lion’s share in many LDCs’ total merchandise exports. Because of the preferential duty benefits provided by EBA, many LDCs can compete with other competitive apparel powerhouses such as China. Notably, the EBA program also adopts the “cut and sew” rules of origin for apparel, which is more general than the “double transformation” rules of origin typically required by EU free trade agreement and trade preference programs. Under the “cut and sew” rule, Cambodia’s apparel exports to the EU can enjoy the import duty-free treatment while using yarns and fabrics sourced from anywhere in the world.

Cambodia is a major apparel supplier for the EU market, accounting for approximately 4% of EU’s total apparel imports in 2017. Exporting apparel to EU through the EBA program is also of particular importance to Cambodia economically. In 2016, the apparel sector created over 500,000 jobs in Cambodia, of whom 86% were female, working in 556 registered factories. According to Eurostat, of EU’s €4.9bn imports from Cambodia in 2017, around 74.9% were apparel (HS chapters 61 and 62). Meanwhile, of EU’s €3.7bn apparel imports from Cambodia in 2017, as high as 96.6% claimed the EBA benefits. Understandably, losing the EBA eligibility could hurt Cambodia’s apparel exports to the EU significantly.

How Might Brexit Affect the Global Fashion Apparel Industry: Discussion Questions from FASH455

#1 To which extent should globalization be responsible for Brexit and why?

#2 Is the fashion industry the winner or loser of Brexit and why?

#3 Does Brexit imply that globalization is in retreat? Why or why not?

#4 Brexit has sparked immense controversy both in and outside of the UK. Given that Britain is one of Europe’s largest importers, how will Brexit affect garment factories and economies of lower-developed countries like Bangladesh and Haiti? Is there anything lower-developed countries can do to help them prepare for Brexit?

#5 Based on the readings, what could be the worst scenario of “Brexit”, particularly for the fashion apparel industry?

#6 Overall, from the case of Brexit, how do you understand that textile and apparel is a global sector?

[For FASH455: 1) Please mention the question number in your comments; 2) Please address at least TWO questions in your comments]

The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work

Key points

  • “Globotics” or Globalization + Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world. Globotics means globalization mixed with new kinds of robotics, from artificial intelligence to technologies that make it easier to outsource services jobs. Particularly, globotics is injecting pressure into our socio-politico-economic system (via job displacement) faster than our system can absorb it (via job replacement). Overall, AI and robots will take jobs — but make the world better.
  • Past globalization and automation were mostly about goods— making them and shipping them. However, the era of globotics is about service-sector automation—driven by information and data.
  • The competition from software robots and telemigrants will seem monstrously unfair to white collar works who lost their jobs. When white-collar workers start sharing the same pain [as blue-collar workers], some sort of backlash is inevitable.
  • As technologies reduce the need for face-to-face contact, some developing nations stand to benefit. For example, India, with its sizeable English-speaking population and armies of techies, could become a hub for services outsourcing, just as China was for manufacturing.
  • Future jobs (that are left) will be more human and involve more face-to-face contact since software robots and tele-migrants will do everything else. In other words, the future economy will be more local and more human.
  • The problem is the short-term. In the era of globotics, it is important to make the rapid job displacement politically acceptable to a majority of voters. Governments may set the policy goal to protect workers, not jobs.