When Apparel “Made in China” Become More Expensive, Will U.S. Consumers Have to Pay More?

(This study was presented at the 2013 International Textile and Apparel Association Annual Conference)

By

Sheng Lu (University of Rhode Island) and Jessica Ridgeway (University of Missouri)

China’s soaring labor cost in recent years has triggered heated discussions on the future of “made in China” and its implication for U.S. consumers who rely heavily on “made in China” products (Rein, 2012). This is particularly the case in the U.S. apparel retail market, where over 98% of consumptions are supplied by imports and nearly 40% of them come from China in value (AAFA, 2012). Although numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate the relationship between imports and the U.S. domestic apparel production or employment (Martin, 2007), the direct linkage between the price of imports and the U.S. apparel retail price has seldom been explored. Because such a price linkage is the key to understand the implication of a more expensive “Made in China” for U.S. consumers, this study tries to fulfill the research gap and specifically investigate to which extent the U.S. apparel retail price is influenced by the price of U.S. apparel imports from China.

Through investigating the impact of the average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from China, the average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from sources other than China and the annual U.S. apparel retail sales on the annual U.S. consumer price index from 2001 to 2011 based on a revised Armington model, this study finds that:

First, for menswear, more expensive “made in China” will result in a higher retail price in the U.S. market. Specifically, the U.S. retail price is suggested to change by 0.137% in the same direction given a 1% change of the price of U.S. imports from China. Second, for womenswear, there is no evidence showing that the price of U.S. imports from China has statistically significant impact on the U.S. retail price Third, the U.S. apparel imports from China and from rest of the world are suggested to constitute higher degree of price elasticity of substitution for womenswear than for menswear.

Findings of this study contribute to the understanding of the direct price linkage between the U.S. apparel import market and the U.S. apparel retail market and have several important implications:

First, the results imply that when “made in China” becomes more expensive, U.S. consumers may not have to pay more, largely because of increased substitution supply from other apparel exporters. Second, the results suggest that the U.S. apparel market is highly competitive and suppliers may not own much market power in price determination despite their large market shares.Third, the results imply that although “made in China” may lose market share in the U.S. market when it becomes more expensive, the magnitude could vary by product categories.

References:

  1. American Apparel and Footwear Association, AAFA (2012).Apparelstats 2012. Retrieved from https://www.wewear.org/industry-resources/publications-and-statistics/
  2. Armington, P.S. (1969). A theory of demand for products distinguished by place of production. International Monetary Fund Staff Papers,16(1), 159-178.
  3. Martin, M. (2007). U.S. clothing and textile trade with China and the world: Trends since the end of quotas. Congressional Research Services, RL 34106, Washington, D.C..
  4. Office of Textiles and Apparel, OTEXA (2013). U.S. imports and exports of textiles and apparel. Retrieved from http://www.otexa.ita.doc.gov/msrpoint.htm
  5. Rodrigo, P. (2012). Re-shoring US apparel making tough but not impossible. Just Style. Retrieve from http://www.just-style.com/analysis/re-shoring-us-apparel-making-tough-but-not-impossible_id115455.aspx
  6. Rein, S. (2012). The end of cheap China: Economic and cultural trends that will disrupt the world: Wiley.
  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS. (2013). Consumer Price Index.  Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/cpi/
  8. U.S. Census Bureau, Census. (2013). Monthly and annual retail trade. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/retail/

OTEXA Released the 2013 Going Global Report

 

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The Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) under the U.S. Department of Commerce recently released the 2013 version of the Going Global Report, which identifies both the largest and the fastest growing export markets for U.S.-made textiles and apparel (T&A) products from 2006 to 2012. Among the 15 largest export markets, six are based in America, five are located in Asia and the rest are from Europe.  

What should be particularly noted is that Vietnam is identified as the top fastest growing export market for U.S. made textiles by the report. In 2012, the U.S. textile exports to Vietnam increased 54.3% from 2011, totaling $66.2 million. However, according to the statistics from the U.N. Comtrade, by 2011,  only 0.6% of Vietnam’s textile imports came from the United States, whereas the leading textile suppliers to Vietnam, including China, Japan and South Korea, are all based in Asia. This raises the question as to whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), if concluded, is able to “break” the current regional production & trade pattern in Asia and positively promote the vertical collaboration between Vietnam and the United States for T&A production and trade.

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The on-going restructuring of the U.S. textile and apparel industry in response to the changing nature of today’s global economy has resulted in a significant shift in the U.S. T&A trade policy in the past few years, moving away from restricting imports to promoting exports in the global marketplace. As the report puts it:

“The growth of the global economy provides U.S. firms with greater opportunities to seek out new markets and customers and to expand their businesses. Moreover, with increased competition from overseas, companies are looking to diversify their client base and find new ways to grow. The supply chain for textiles and apparel has become increasingly global, to include North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Asia Pacific region. Customers, suppliers, manufacturers, and assemblers are located throughout the world, and represent new potential partners for U.S. firms looking to expand abroad. “

Is clothing “made in USA” more ethical? How “ethical” should be defined?

It has become a commonly held view that apparel workers in many developing countries are unfairly treated because they are much lower paid compared with their counterparts in the developed countries.  For example, American Apparel, a company that insists all of its products made in USA, claims itself to be sweatshop-free on the basis that it pays workers an hourly wage of $12.  However, does an hourly wage of $12 in the USA necessarily mean more “ethical” than an hourly wage of several cents in a poor developing country like Bangladesh?  

An often ignored fact is that in many developing countries, jobs in the apparel sector are better paid than positions in other sectors. For example, according to a recent study conducted by the World Bank, in Bangladesh, wage level in its apparel sector is 17.7% higher than the average level of all sectors, 72.2% higher than the wage level in the agriculture sector and 4.5% higher than the wage level in the service sector. This is not surprising, because in many developing countries, “moving from agriculture and low-end services into apparel jobs is a channel for social upgrading” (Lopez-Acevedo & Robertson, 2012).

Then, what does an hourly wage of $12 mean in a developed country like the United States? Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, in 2012, average wage level in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector (NAICS 315) is 26.2% below the average wage level of all sectors. More specifically, the average wage level for the production occupations is 47.3% below the national average level and 53.6% below the national average level for sewing machine operators, the exact type of job that the hourly wage of $12 refers to. 

The point to make here after the comparison is that it is misleading to define “ethical” or comment on “corporate social responsibility” without putting the matter in the context of the stage of development and the nature of the economy.  Wage level is not determined by good will, but by the principle of economics 101.

By Sheng Lu

apparel payment

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A Global View in Mind Means More Job and Career Oppertunities in the Fashion Apparel Industry

(Note: the functions & jobs below the U.S. flag mean they are based in the United States;  Remember, apparel are “made in the world”–just like iphone and ipad. Even imports contain U.S. added value.)

021313_Moongate_Assoc_Global_Value_Chain_Report

Source: Moongate Association (2012). Analyzing the Value Chain for Apparel Designed in the United States and Manufactured Overseas

Impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Textile and Apparel Trade in the Pacific Rim

TPP on T&A trade in the pacific rim

Citation: Lu, S. (2013). Impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on textile and apparel trade in the Pacific Rim. World Trade Organization Focus, 20(5), 67-77.

For questions, please contact the author: shenglu@mail.uri.edu

Patterns of World Textile Trade:2000-2010

The following findings are from:

Lu, S. (2013). Impacts of quota elimination on world textile trade: A reality check from 2000 to 2010, Journal of the Textile Institut, 104(3), 239–250.

         “Findings of this study challenge the practices of previous studies that evaluated the impacts of quota elimination mostly by focusing on the performances of developing countries in the U.S. and EU markets (Nordas, 2004; Curran, 2008). Although such strategy may work for clothing trade, its appropriateness for scrutinizing world textile trade is evidenced to be questionable. Particularly, to manufacture textiles, it places higher requirements on a country’s technology advancement level and capital abundance than clothing production which is more labor intensive in nature and with lower business entry threshold (Dickerson, 1999). Therefore, as shown in the study, it was the developed countries rather than the developing countries that remain dominant and competitive textile exporters in the world today (WTO, 2011).  On the other hand, the developed countries are no longer leading textile importers either because of their dramatic shrinkage of domestic clothing manufacturing capacity (Dicken, 2003). To certain extent, missing such distinct patterns of textile trade may be one reason why findings of many previous studies turned out to be inconsistent with the reality (Ahmad & Diaz, 2008).

       Second, findings of this study call for attention to the new round of structural change of world textile trade that may have unfolded since the outbreak of the world financial crisis in 2008. This is particularly the case for the high-income countries which suddenly saw sharper decline of their textile export from 2008 through 2010 compared with earlier years in the post-quota era. It is unclear whether such phenomenon is a temporary market fluctuation in nature or reflects a more permanent adjustment of economic structure that is undergoing in the developed countries. Whether and how the financial crisis has structurally affected the world textile trade can be further explored in future studies.

       Third, findings of this study reflect the difficulty of achieving upgrading of the textile and clothing sector in the less-developed countries.  Although the development theory proposed by Toyne (1984) and Dickerson (1999) optimistically predicted the gradual evolution of a country’s textile and clothing sector over time, results of this study indicated that this upgrading process turned out to be very slow in progress for the developing world. Particularly, in today’s globalized economy, the division of labor between the developed countries and the less-developed ones is largely value-chain based and different from the case of inter-industry division of labor when the development theory was introduced (Toyne, 1984; Gereffi, 1999).  It seems there lacks a clear mechanism for the less-developed countries to gradually move up their position in the clothing value chain and have the chance to build on capacity of manufacturing and exporting textiles.  However, chances may occur if the high-income countries proactively “give up” textile manufacturing and instead prioritize the development of other emerging sectors regarded as more strategically important in the post-crisis recovery. “

 

China and the US Economy: Advancing a Winning Trade Agenda

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Last week in class, we discussed what globalization means and why international trade happens. This latest research report released by the U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC) on the U.S.-China commercial relationships provides latest evidence showing how the world two largest economies are interdependent with each other and mutually benefit from such a close trade partnership.  The report also highlights several key facts about the U.S.-China trade relationship, which often time is misunderstood by the general public.

Full text of the report is available at:

https://www.uschina.org/info/trade-agenda/2013/uscbc-trade-agenda-report.pdf