CPTPP Tariff Phaseout Schedule for Textiles and Apparel

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP),  signed on March 8, 2018, is a new free trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Once the CPTPP enters into force, it will be one of the largest free trade agreements in the world and will provide enhanced market access to key Asian markets. Below is the detailed tariff phaseout schedule for textile and apparel products by CPTPP members:

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by Sheng Lu

US Continues to Lose Textile and Apparel Manufacturing Jobs in 2017

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It may disappoint those who are hoping a return of textile and apparel manufacturing jobs in the United States. But according to latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel industry (NAICS 315) respectively lost another 4,100 and 10,100 jobs in 2017.  Between January 2005 and December 2017, 44.2% and 56.3% of jobs in the U.S. textile and apparel sectors were gone.  

From the academic perspective, a sizable return of textile and apparel manufacturing job in the United States seems to be extremely unlikely given the nature of the U.S. and the global economy in the 21st century.

Notably, the rising import is found NOT a significant factor leading to the decline in employment in the U.S. textile industry (NAICS 313). As estimated by a US International Trade Commission study in 2016, imports were found only contributed 0.4 percent of the total 7.6 percent annual employment decline in the U.S. textile industry between 1998 and 2014. Instead, more job losses in the sector were caused by: 1) the improved productivity as a result of capitalization and automation (around 4.6 percent annually); and (2) the shrinkage of domestic demand for the U.S. made textiles (around 3.5 percent annually).

And consistent with the prediction of classic trade theories, as capital and technology abundant developed country, the United States, not surprisingly, continues to lose its comparative advantage in making labor-intensive apparel. Hypothetically, apparel “Made in the USA” may come back if apparel manufacturing can be substantially automated like textile manufacturing. However, net job creation in the sector as a result of automation is hard to tell. Additionally, most U.S. apparel companies heavily rely on global sourcing and non-manufacturing activities such as branding, marketing, and design today. Few companies still regard “manufacturing” a key competitive advantage or an area of strategic importance to invest in the future.

Related reading: Creating High-Quality Jobs in the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry (UD Biden Institute)

Global Value Chain for Apparel Sold at Target

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A global view in mind means more career opportunities: except material production and cut and sew, other well-paid jobs in the apparel value chain stay in the United States.

Source: Moongate Association (2017). Analyzing the Value Chain for Apparel Designed in the United States and Manufactured Overseas

Outlook 2018: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

Outlook 2019: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead is available 

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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.

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

What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

I encourage everyone to watch the above two short videos, which provide an excellent wrap-up for FASH455 and remind us the meaning and significance of our course.

First of all, I do hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A) trade & sourcing from FASH455. So far in the course we’ve examined the phenomenon of globalization and its implications; we also discussed various trade theories and the general pattern of the evolution of T&A industry in a country’s industrialization process; we further explored three primary T&A supply chains in the world (namely the “Western-Hemisphere” supply chain, “Factory Asia” supply chain based on the flying geese model and the phenomenon of intra-region T&A trade in Europe); last but not least, we looked at trade policies that are unique to the T&A sector (e.g.,: MFA and yarn-forward rules of origin) as well as the complicated economic, political and social factors behind the making of these trade policies. No matter your dream is to be a fashion designer, buyer, merchandiser, sourcing specialist or marketing analyst, understanding how trade and sourcing work will be highly relevant and beneficial to your future career given the global nature of today’s fashion industry.

Second, I hope FASH455 helps students shape a big picture vision of the T&A industry in the 21st-century world economy and provides students a fresh new perspective of looking at the world. Throughout the semester, we’ve examined many critical, timely and pressing global agendas that are highly relevant to the T&A industry, from apparel companies’ social responsibility practices, the debate on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda to the controversy of second-hand clothing trade. It is critical to keep in mind that we wear more than just clothes: We also wear the global economy, international business, public policy and trade politics that make affordable, fashionable, and safe clothes possible and available for hardworking families. This is also the message from many of our distinguished guest speakers this semester and I do hope you find these sessions enlightening and inspiring. 

Likewise, I hope FASH455 puts students into thinking the meaning of being a FASH major (as well as a college graduate) and how to contribute to the world we are living today positively. A popular misconception is that T&A is just about “sewing,” “fashion magazine,” “shopping” and “Project Runway.” In fact, as one of the largest and most economically influential sectors in the world today, T&A industry plays a critical and unique role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. As we mentioned in the class, globally over 120 million people remain directly employed in the T&A industry, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. For most developing countries, T&A usually accounts for 70%–90% of their total merchandise exports and provide one of the very few opportunities for these countries to participate in globalization. Indeed, T&A is such an impactful sector and we are as important as any other majors on the campus!

Last but not least, I hope from taking FASH455, students can take away meaningful questions that can inspire their future study and even life’s pursuit. For example:

  • How to make the growth of global textile and apparel trade more inclusive?
  • What trade policy can promote and support textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States?
  • How to make sure that tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How to distribute the benefits & cost of globalization among different countries and groups of people more equally?
  • How to use trade policy as a tool to solve some tough global issues such as labor practices and environmental standard?
  • Is inequality a problem caused by global trade? If global trade is the problem, what is the alternative?

These questions have no real answer yet. But they are waiting for you, the young professional and the new generation of leaders, to write the history, based on your knowledge, wisdom, responsibility, courage, and creativity!

So what do you take away from FASH455? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Apparel Sourcing in U.S. Trade Preference Program Countries

Speakers:

  • Tarek Kabil – Egyptian Ministry of Trade & Industry
  • Ashraf Rabiey – QIZ Minister of Egypt
  • Gabi Bar – QIZ Minister of Israel
  • Mark D’Sa – Special Project Director for Haiti
  • Moderator: Gail Strickler – former Assistant US Trade Representative for Textiles

Discussion questions:

  1. What are the financial incentives for US brands and retailers to source apparel in preference program countries? Why do U.S. apparel imports from members of AGOA, QIZs and HELP overall remain at a fairly low level despite the trade preference programs? How to improve the situation?
  2. Overall, why or why not should the US keep the trade preference programs or any critical reforms are needed?
  3. Any other interesting points you learned from the video or questions you may have?

NAFTA Renegotiation and Textile-Specific Rules of Origin in Free Trade Agreements: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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(Photo credit: Steve Lamar, AAFA)

#1 The US textile industry and the fashion retailers/brands/importers have very different priorities regarding modernizing and updating NAFTA. Do you believe that a compromise acceptable to both sides can be found? If so, what do you believe that compromise can be?

#2 Overall, why or why not do you think the U.S. textile and apparel industry is a beneficiary of NAFTA over the past decade? From the perspective of the U.S. textile and apparel industry, should or should not reducing the U.S. trade deficit be a prioritized objective in the NAFTA renegotiation?

#3 What will happen to the U.S. textile and apparel industry if NAFTA is gone? How should U.S.-based textile and apparel companies respond to NAFTA’s termination?

#4 In your view, why or why not the “yarn-forward” rules of origin are outdated in today’s global-based textile and apparel supply chain?

#5 Why do you think the “yarn-forward” rules of origin vary from free trade agreement (FTA) to FTA? Do you think there’s a way to make a universal “yarn-forward” rule for all U.S. FTAs?

#6 Why are the textile-specific rules of origin under free trade agreements so complex? What potential issues do you think can arise because of the complexity of these rules?

(Please feel free to join our online discussion. In your comment, please mention the question #)

NAFTA Members’ Applied MFN Tariff Rates for Textile and Apparel in 2017

If the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is terminated by President Trump, the immediate impact will be an increase in tariff rate for textile and apparel (T&A) products traded between the three NAFTA members from zero to the most-favored-nation (MFN) rates applied for regular trading partners. In 2017, the average applied MFN tariff rates for textile and apparel were 7.9% and 11.6% respectively in the United States, 2.3% and 16.5% in Canada and 9.8% and 21.2% in Mexico (WTO Tariff Profile, 2017).

Below is NAFTA members’ average applied MFN tariff rate in 2017 for chapters 50-63, which cover T&A products:

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US import from Mexico

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Data source: World Trade Organization (2017); US International Trade Commission (2017)

by Sheng Lu

Related article: What Will Happen to the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry if NAFTA Is Gone?

WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2016

[The 2017 statistics are available, see WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2017

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According to the newly released World Trade Statistical Review 2017 by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the current dollar value of world textiles (SITC 65) and apparel (SITC 84) exports totaled $284 billion and $443 billion respectively in 2016, marginally decreased by 2.3 percent and 0.4 percent respectively from a year earlier. This is the second year in a roll since 2015 that the value of world textiles and apparel exports grew negatively.

However, textiles and apparel are not alone. The current dollar value of world merchandise exports also declined by 3 percent in 2015, to $11.2 trillion, mostly caused by the strong decline in exports of fuels and mining products (-14 percent). On the other hand, as noted by the WTO, the steep drop in commodity prices recorded in 2015 mostly halted in 2016, except energy prices.

Textile and apparel exports

Measured in value, China, European Union, and India remained the top three exporters of textiles in 2016. Altogether, these top three accounted for 65.9 percent of world exports in 2016, slightly down from 66.5 percent in 2015, which is mostly due to India’s shrinking market shares.

The United States remained the fourth top textile exporter in 2016, accounting for 4.6 percent of the shares (down from 4.8 percent in 2015). Over half of the top ten exporters experienced a decline in the value of their exports in 2016, with the highest declines seen in Hong Kong (-13 percent), Taiwan (-8 percent), South Korea (-6 percent) and the United States (-6 percent). Notably, Vietnam entered the world’s top ten textile exporters for the first time (2 percent market shares, 9 percent growth rate from 2015).

Top three exporters of apparel include China, the European Union, and Bangladesh. Altogether, they accounted for 69.1 percent of world exports, close to 70.3 percent in 2015. Among the top ten exporters of apparel, increases in export values were recorded by Cambodia (+6 percent), Bangladesh (+6 percent), Vietnam (+5 percent), and European Union (+4 percent). Other leading exporters saw stagnation in their export values (such as Turkey) or recorded a decline (such as China, India, and Indonesia).

Could be negatively affected by the rising labor and production cost, China’s shares in the world textile exports dropped from 37.4 percent in 2015 to 37.2 percent in 2016, and the shares in the world apparel exports fell from 39.2 percent in 2015 to 36.4 percent in 2016—a record low since 2010.

Textile and apparel imports

Measured in value, the European Union, the United States, and China were the top three importers of textiles in 2016. These top three altogether accounted for 38 percent of world textile imports, slightly up from 37 percent in 2015, but remains much lower than over 53 percent back in 2000. Notably, over the past decade, apparel manufacturing continues to shift from developed to developing countries and many developing countries heavily rely on imported textile inputs due to the lack of local manufacturing capacity. This explains why more textile exports now go to the developing nations.

On the other hand, affected by consumers’ purchasing power (often measured by GDP per capita) and size of the population, the European Union, the United States, and Japan remained the top three importers of apparel in 2016. Altogether, these top three accounted for 62.9 percent of world apparel imports in 2016, up from 59 percent in 2015. Notably, China is quickly becoming one of the world’s top apparel importers. From 2010 to 2016, China’s apparel imports enjoyed an annual 17 percent growth, much higher than most other countries.

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Mexico’s Apparel Exports Continue to Rely on the U.S. Market Heavily

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Mexico’s textile and apparel (T&A) exports totaled USD$6,441 million in 2016, fell by 5.1% from 2015. Around 63% of these exports were apparel (or USD$4,061 million), and 37% (or USD$2,379 million) was textiles.

Could be negatively affected by the appreciation of the Mexican Peso against the U.S. dollar, plus the uncertainty associated with the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico’s apparel exports further went down 7.2% in the first half of 2017 compared to 2016.

In 2016, the United States remains Mexico’s top T&A export market with an 87.3% share (up from 87.0% in 2015, 86.7% in 2014 and 84.7% in both 2013 and 2012), followed by Canada with a 1.9% share (up from 1.6% in 2015). Overall, Mexico was the sixth largest T&A supplier for the U.S. market, accounting for 4.3% of the market shares measured by value in 2016.

Nevertheless, Mexico’s T&A exports to the United States fell by 4.7% between 2015 and 2016 (from USD$5,902 million to USD$5,625 million). Product categories that suffered the deepest drop include cotton hosiery (down by 57.3%), men’s and boys’ wool suits (down by 35.9%), manmade fiber underwear (down by 29.0%), and men’s and boys’ cotton woven shirts (down by 27.9%).

Overall, Mexican T&A exporters feel relieved that the United States has decided to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, without TPP, the Mexican T&A industry is still expected to face an increased competition from Vietnam and China both in the leading export markets (such as the United States and Canada) and the domestic market. Notably, the Mexican government has decided to lower the Most Favored Nation (MFN) import duty rates on the 73 clothing items and seven made-up textile items effective in January 2019.

References: Textile Outlook International (October 2017)

“Made in America”: A New Reality?

Panelists

  • Pete Bauman, Senior VP, Burlington Worldwide / ITG
  • Joann Kim, Director, Johnny’s Fashion Studio
  • Tricia Carey, Business Development Manager, Lenzing USA
  • Michael Penner, CEO, Peds Legwear
  • Moderator: Arthur Friedman, Senior Editor, Textiles and Trade, WWD 

Video Discussion Questions 

  • How does “Made in the USA” fit into US textile and apparel companies’ overall business strategy today?
  • What measures have been taken by US textile and apparel companies to bring more production back to the US? Can any measures be linked to the restructuring strategies we discussed in the class?
  • What are the significant obstacles to bringing textile and apparel manufacturing back to the US?
  • Any other exciting points/buzzwords did you learn from the panel discussion?

US Tables Proposal Aimed at Limiting the Yarn-Forward Exceptions in NAFTA Renegotiation

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According to Inside US Trade, in the third round the NAFTA renegotiation (September 23-27, 2017), the United States has put forward several possible changes to the existing rules related to textile and apparel in the agreement:

  1. USTR proposes to eliminate the tariff preference level (TPL) in NAFTA. The goal of eliminating TPL is to limit the exceptions to the yarn-forward rules of origin and “incentivize” more production in the NAFTA region as advocated by the U.S. textile industry.
  2. As a potential replacement for TPL, USTR also proses to add a short supply list mechanism to NAFTA, but details remain unclear (e.g., whether the list will be temporary or permanent; the application process).
  3. USTR further proposes a new chapter devoted to textile and apparel in NAFTA in line with more recent agreements negotiated by the U.S.. The current NAFTA does not include a textile chapter.

USTR’s proposal to remove TPL in NAFTA has met strong opposition from the U.S. apparel industry, fashion retailers, and brands as well as their partners in Mexico and Canada. According to these industry groups:

  • Eliminating TPLs would disrupt supply chains that have been in place for more than two decades.
  • Eliminating TPLs would not move production back to the U.S. but would instead further incentivize sourcing from outside the NAFTA region and put textile and apparel factories in the region out of business. For example, some apparel factories remain production in the NAFTA region largely because TPL allows them to use third-party textile inputs and the finished goods can still be treated as NAFTA originating.
  • Without the TPL, companies would opt to produce textile and apparel products in the least expensive way possible, likely outside the NAFTA region, and ship items into North America despite being hit with most-favored-nation (MFN) tariffs.
  • A short supply list would not ease the supply chain disruptions that would result from the removal of the TPLs because there is no guarantee products formerly subject to the TPL would make it onto a new NAFTA short supply list.

A potential compromise could involve a reduction in Canadian and Mexican TPLs to the U.S. and an increase in the U.S. TPLs to Mexico and Canada, which could boost the U.S. trade surplus in textiles and apparel with its NAFTA partners and throw a bone to the U.S. textile industry by ostensibly incentivizing domestic production.

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Fact-check about TPL

TPL was included in NAFTA as a compromise for adopting the yarn-forward rules of origin in the agreement. Before NAFTA, the US-Canada trade agreement adopted the less restrictive fabric-forward rules of origin.

The TPL mechanism has played a critical role in facilitating the textile and apparel (T&A) trade and production collaboration between the United States and Canada, in particular, the export of Canada’s wool suits to the United States and the U.S. cotton or man-made fiber apparel to Canada. Statistics from the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) show that in 2016 more than 70% of the value of Canada’s apparel exports to the United States under NAFTA utilized the TPL provision, including almost all wool apparel products. Over the same period, the TPL fulfillment rate for U.S. cotton or man-made fiber apparel exports to Canada reached 100%, suggesting a high utilization of the TPL mechanism by U.S. apparel firms too (Global Affairs Canada, 2017). Several studies argue that without the TPL mechanism, the U.S.-Canada bilateral T&A trade volume could be in much smaller scale (USITC, 2016). Notably, garments assembled in the United States and Canada often contained non-NAFTA originating textile inputs, which failed them to meet the “yarn-forward” rules of origin typically required for the preferential duty treatment under NAFTA.

Related articles:

 

NAFTA Renegotiating Objectives Related to the Textile and Apparel Industry

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On Tuesday (July 17, 2017), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released its detailed and comprehensive summary of the renegotiating objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In the statement, USTR says that “through the renegotiation of NAFTA, the Trump Administration will seek a much better agreement that reduces the U.S. trade deficit and is fair for all Americans by improving market access in Canada and Mexico for U.S. manufacturing, agriculture, and services.”

Several released negotiating objectives address textile and apparel (T&A) directly or are highly relevant to the sector:

Trade in Goods

  • Improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with the NAFTA countries.
  • Maintain existing duty-free access to NAFTA country markets for U.S. textile and apparel products and seek to improve competitive opportunities for exports of U.S. textile and apparel products while taking into account U.S. import sensitivities.

Rules of Origin

  • Update and strengthen the rules of origin, as necessary, to ensure that the benefits of NAFTA go to products genuinely made in the United States and North America.
  • Ensure the rules of origin incentivize the sourcing of goods and materials from the United States and North America.
  • Establish origin procedures that streamline the certification and verification of rules of origin and that promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.
  • -Establish origin procedures that streamline the certification and verification of rules of origin and that promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.

Customs and Trade Facilitation

  • Provide for automation of import, export, and transit processes, including through supply chain integration; reduced import, export, and transit forms, documents, and formalities; enhanced harmonization of customs data requirements; and advance rulings regarding the treatment that will be provided to a good at the time of importation.

Comments:

  1. Notably, reducing the trade deficit and bringing more manufacturing jobs back to the United States are at the core of the NAFTA’s renegotiating objectives. These two goals are also highly consistent with Trump’s rhetoric on his trade policy.
  2. A dilemma facing the T&A sectoral negotiation is that the United States currently runs a robust trade surplus with Canada and Mexico for textiles: in 2016, the value of U.S. trade surplus (i.e. the value of exports minus the value of imports) totaled $680 million for yarns (up 56.7% from 1994), $4,342 million for fabrics (up 202.9% from 1994) and $1,461 million for made-up textiles (up 223.5% from 1994). Meanwhile, although the United States is in a trade deficit with NAFTA partners for apparel ($1,130 million in 2016), U.S. apparel imports from Canada and Mexico often contain textile inputs “Made in the USA” through the Western-Hemisphere supply chain. Blindly cutting the trade deficit on apparel ironically could affect the U.S. textile exports to the NAFTA region negatively.
  3. Based on the released objectives, it seems unlikely that the NAFTA renegotiation will liberalize the yarn-forward rules of origin for textile and apparel. On the contrary, USTR could review the current exceptions to the yarn-forward rules, including the tariff preference levels (TPL) and some special regimes such as the 9802 program related to fabric sourcing to strengthen the manufacturing base and create MANUFACTURING jobs in the United States. Recognizing the competing arguments between the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry (fashion brands and retailers) regarding the necessity and impact of these exceptions, USTR also needs more inputs of how companies use exceptions like the TPL in sourcing and why they use them.
  4. Other than the rules of origin, trade facilitation and customs enforcement will be another major agenda related to the T&A sector in the NAFTA renegotiation. Elements from the newly enforced Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 could be added to the updated NAFTA.
  5. A positive aspect of the NAFTA T&A sectoral negotiation is that all parties alongside the supply chain, from U.S. cotton growers, textile mills to apparel retailers and brands recognize the value of NAFTA and no one calls for pulling out of the agreement. It is also a consensus view of the U.S. T&A industry that NAFTA renegotiation should “do no harm”, i.e. strengthening rather than weakening the current supply-chain partnership between NAFTA members. Additionally, stakeholders in the U.S. T&A industry unanimously support keeping the renegotiation trilateral, but agree to use bilateral provisions to address some particular concerns.
  6. The NAFTA renegotiation may officially start on August 17 or 18, 2017. However, Time is the enemy of the NAFTA renegotiation. While there is a strong incentive for all parties to finish the negotiation by the end of 2017 given the upcoming U.S. mid-term election and the Mexican presidential election in 2018, the ambitious renegotiation agenda makes it extremely challenging to meet that goal. Risks are still there that Trump may pull the United States out of NAFTA should he lose patience for the renegotiation. Notably, Trump’s dislike of NAFTA is real.

Sheng Lu

Related: US Textile and Apparel Industry and NAFTA: Key Statistics (updated July 2017)

USTR Hearing on the Renegotiation of NAFTA: Textile and Apparel Industry

US Textile and Apparel Associations Comment on NAFTA Renegotiation

USTR Hearings on the Renegotiation of NAFTA: Textile and Apparel Industry

Panel:

  • Augustine Tantillo, President, and CEO, National Council of Textile Organizations
  • David Spooner, Counsel representing the U.S. Fashion Industry Association
  • Stephen Lamar, Executive Vice President, American Apparel and Footwear Association
  • Randy Price, VP, Managing Director Product Supply—Americas, VF Corporation
  • Marc Fleischaker, Trade Counsel, Rubber and Plastic Footwear Manufacturers Association
  • Reece Langley, VP of Washington Operations, National Cotton Council
  • Richard Gottuso, Vice President and General Counsel, Bracewell, LLP-Hunter Douglas

US Textile and Apparel Industry Associations Comment on NAFTA Renegotiation

This week, several leading U.S. textile and apparel industry associations submitted their comments to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) regarding the renegotiation objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Below is a summary of these organizations’ viewpoints based on their submissions:

NAFTA renegotiation

Appendix: Submitted written comments

Cheaper to Make Textiles in the United States than in China: Reality or Myth?

NY times

A New York Times article back in August 2015 suggests that “yarn production costs in China are now 30 percent higher than in the United States” because of savings in raw and auxiliary material. The article believes the cost difference is why some Chinese textile companies are coming to build factories in the United States, such as Keer Group’s cotton mill in South Carolina.

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However, in a recent interview with China Textile News, Chairman of the Cixi Jiangnan Chemical Fiber Co (Cixi) provides a different cost sheet (above). In September 2013, Cixi invested a $45million polyester staple fiber mill in South Carolina. Because nearly 80% of Cixi’s outputs are sold outside of China, and the United States is its single largest export market, the investment intends to help the company maintain its presence in the U.S. market and substantially save transportation cost.

According to Cixi, it is a misunderstanding that making textiles in the United States is cheaper than in China. Although moving factories to the United States may help Chinese companies save money in land, electricity, natural gas, and logistics, it will significantly increase the costs in purchasing manufacturing equipment, building factories and managing daily operation of the company.  Additionally, culture and language barriers, as well as labor policy in the United States, could also become critical challenges facing Chinese investors. Cixi admits that to keep its U.S. factory running smoothly, members of its management team all come from China.

What Will Happen to the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry if NAFTA Is Gone?

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Since its taking effect in 1995, NAFTA, a trade deal between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, has raised heated debate regarding its impact on the U.S. economy. President Trump has repeatedly derided NAFTA, describing it as “very, very bad” for U.S. companies and workers, and he promised during his campaign that he would remove the United States from the trade agreement if he could not negotiate improvements.

The U.S. textile and apparel (T&A) industry is a critical stakeholder of the potential policy change, because of its deep involvement in the regional T&A supply chain established by the NAFTA. Particularly, over the past decades, trade creation effect of the NAFTA has significantly facilitated the formation of a regional T&A supply chain among its members. Within this supply chain, the United States typically exports textiles to Mexico, which turns imported yarns and fabrics into apparel and then exports finished apparel back to the United and Canada for consumption.

So what will happen to the U.S. T&A industry if NAFTA no longer exists? Here is what I find*:

figure 1

First, results show that ending the NAFTA will significantly hurt U.S. textile exports. Specifically, the annual U.S. textile exports to Mexico and Canada will sharply decline by $2,081 million (down 47.7%) and $351 million (down 14%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015.Although U.S. textile exports to other members of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), will slightly increase by $42 million (up 1.5%), the potential gains will be far less than the loss of exports to the NAFTA region.

2

Second, results show that ending the NAFTA will significantly reduce U.S. apparel imports from the NAFTA region. Specifically, annual U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada will sharply decrease by $1,610 million (down 45.3%) and $916 million (down 154.2%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015 (H2 is supported). However, ending the NAFTA would do little to curb the total U.S. apparel imports, largely because U.S. companies will simply switch to importing more apparel from other suppliers such as China and Vietnam.

3

Third, ending NAFTA will further undercut textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States rather than bring back “Made in the USA.” Specifically, annual U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing will decline by $1,923 million (down 12.8%) and $308 million (down 3.0%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015 (H3 is supported). Weaker demand from the NAFTA region is the primary reason why U.S. T&A manufacturing will suffer a decline.

These findings have several important implications. On the one hand, the results suggest that the U.S. T&A will be a big loser if the NAFTA no longer exists. Particularly, ending the agreement will put the regional T&A supply chain in jeopardy and make the U.S. textile industry lose its single largest export market—Mexico. On the other hand, findings of the study confirm that in an almost perfectly competitive market like apparel, raising tariff rate is bound to result in trade diversion. With so many alternative suppliers out there, understandably, ending the NAFTA will NOT increase demand for T&A “Made in the USA,” nor create more manufacturing jobs in the sector. Rather, Asian textile and apparel suppliers will take away market shares from Mexico and ironically benefit most from NAFTA’s dismantlement.

*Note: The study is based on the computable general equilibrium (CGE) model developed by the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP). Data of the analysis came from the latest GTAP9 database, which includes trade and production data of 57 sectors in 140 countries in 2015 as the base year. For the purpose of the study, we assume that if NAFTA no longer exists, the tariff rate applied for T&A traded between NAFTA members will increase from zero to the normal duty rate (i.e. the Most-Favored-Nation duty rate) in respective countries.

by Sheng Lu

How Americans Knew about Textile and Apparel Trade: New Survey Results

The following results are preliminary findings from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) 2016 survey. The survey was administrated by YouGov/Polimetrix and conducted from September to October 2016.

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Acknowledgement:

Thanks to the University of Delaware Office of the Provost, Social Science Data Analytics Initiative, and Center for Political Communication in support of the data collection. For questions about the data, please contact Dr. Sheng Lu (shenglu@udel.edu).

 

Positions on Key Trade Issues: US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) V.S. National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO)

 

From left to right: Julia Hughes (president of USFIA), Auggie Tantillo (president & CEO of NCTO) and Robert Antoshak (Managing Director of Olah Inc., moderator)

In a panel discussion hosted by Kingpins on February 9, 2017, Julia K. Hughes, President of the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), and Augustine Tantillo, President and Chief Executive of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) shared their respective perspectives on key trade issues facing the U.S. textile and apparel industry in 2017.

Trade and job creation in the United States

Julia Hughes: Discussion on the relationship of trade and jobs in the public is often misguided. We support U.S. manufacturing. But along the supply chain, from product development, sourcing, marketing to retailing, fashion brands and retailers have also created many well-paid non-manufacturing jobs in the United States. Study further shows that 70%-80% of the retail value of an imported clothing actually stays in the United States.

Auggie Tantillo: Pleased and excited to see the discussion on the possibility of bringing back/expanding manufacturing in the United States. Still the United States produces $65—70 billion worth of textiles annually, which support many manufacturing jobs in the sector.  The U.S. textile industry also makes around $2 billion investment annually (updating machines and equipment). We need to acknowledge the baseline value of manufacturing in the United States.  

Border Adjustment Tax(BAT)

Julia Hughes: BAT is a complicated issue. However, if the current BAT proposal is adopted, it will raise the retail price (meaning ordinary US consumers will have to pay more) and appreciate the U.S. dollar (meaning U.S. exports will get hurt). This is why USFIA along with 100+ companies and industry associations opposes any BAT.

Auggie Tantillo: NCTO strongly believes that updating the tax structure in the United States is long overdue. NCTO welcomes a serious look at the BAT proposal, since the United States is the only major economy in the world that does not adopt BAT. The United States doesn’t need to run such a high trade deficit. Instead, we need to make the tax structure supporting the U.S. manufacturing base.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Julia Hughes: NAFTA is 20 years’ old and it can be improved. However, raising import tax (tariff) is NOT a good idea. NAFTA supports the Western-Hemisphere supply chain, which is critical for the U.S. textile and apparel industry. We need to defend this supply chain.  

Auggie Tantillo: NAFTA works and benefits its members on all sides of the border, including the United States. NCTO supports the continuation of NAFTA as well as to update and modernize the agreement as necessary.

Yarn-forward Rules of Origin (RoO)

Julia Hughes: Apparel is a global industry and apparel supply chain needs to be nimble. The yarn-forward RoO prevents apparel companies and retailers from fully enjoying the duty-free benefits under a free trade agreement (FTA) since not always the FTA region makes the needed products or their textile components. Exceptions to the yarn-forward rules such as the tariff preference level (TPL), provide necessary flexibility.  

Auggie Tantillo: The yarn-forward RoO has been a great success and we need to keep it (in existing and future trade agreements). The only things that need to be improved is the exception to the yarn-forward RoO (such as short supply list and trade preference level). RoO is supposed to keep benefits of a free trade agreement to its members only, yet these exceptions create loopholes and cause damages (to the U.S. textile industry).

On China

Julia Hughes: We need China, which still provides 40% of textiles and apparel consumed in the United States. It will be a disaster to trigger a trade war between the two countries.

Auggie Tantillo: We need to better help the Western-Hemisphere producers (in competing with textile and apparel made in China). China’s  40%+ market shares in the U.S. textile and apparel import market are not all based on its genuine competitiveness. Rather, China’s unfair trade practices such as IPR violation, government subsidy and unacceptable factory working conditions & environmental practices are of grave concerns.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Julia Hughes: TPP is not dead. On the other hand, countries around the world are actively negotiating new bilateral/regional free trade agreements. The United States doesn’t want to be left behind.

Auggie Tantillo: TPP is “in deep hibernation”, but trade agreement will never be really dead. It is still hopeful that TPP will come back later—but very likely to be in a different form, such as bilateral trade agreements. To be noted, many TPP members have already established bilateral/regional trade agreements with the United States.  

Discussion questions: 1) Why do you think Julia Hughes and Auggie Tantillo disagree on many trade issues? On which topics they actually agree with each other and why? 2) What’s your response to Julia Hughes and Auggie Tantillo’s comments on trade issues above? 3) Based on the panel discussion, why do you think textile and apparel companies need to care about trade policy? Please feel free to share your views.

Global Textile and Apparel Exports by Income Groups (2000-2015)

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textile-1

As of 2015, over 40% of textile exports still come from high income countries. Meanwhile, upper middle income countries are quickly expanding exports and gaining more market shares from 2000 to 2015. However, textile exports from low income countries remain minimal.

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From 2000 to 2015, shares of apparel exports from high income countries dropped from 50% to 31%. Meanwhile, market shares of upper middle income countries increased from 32% to 46%. However, low income countries are becoming even more marginalized in apparel exports: their market shares slipped from 0.3% in 2000 to only 0.1% in 2015.

share-1  share-2

Additionally, textile and apparel exports in general are economically more important for lower income countries than higher income countries. However, the percentage of textile and apparel in a country’s total merchandise exports seem to be declining across all income groups except for low-income countries.  Meanwhile, for a good number of low-income and lower-middle income countries such as Bangladesh, Gambia, Pakistan and Cambodia, textile and apparel remain one of their very few exporting opportunities.

Data source: World Trade Organization (2017), World Bank (2017); Country list (by income groups) can be found HERE

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Sheiron Crawford for assisting the data collection.

Outlook 2017: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

outlook

In January 2017, Just-Style consulted a panel of industry leaders and scholars in its Outlook 2017–Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead management briefing. Below is my contribution to the report. Welcome for any suggestions and comments.

1: What do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel industry in 2017, and why?

I see the uncertainty in the global economy will pose one of the biggest challenges facing the apparel industry in 2017. Apparel business is buyer-driven. A great number of studies have suggested that economic growth is by far the most effective and reliable predictive factor for apparel consumption. Unfortunately, it seems apparel companies have to deal with another year of economic volatility and weak demand in 2017. For example, according to the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast released in October 2016, global economic growth in 2017 is projected to only recover to 3.4 percent from 3.1 percent in 2016. There is no particular excitement among major apparel consumption markets either: outlook of the U.S. economy in 2017 is complicated by the strong U.S dollar, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy as well as the uncertain trade and tax policy to be adopted by the new Trump administration; Economic growth in the EU region next year will continue to be hindered by the unknown fallout from UK’s referendum on leaving the EU, pervasive geopolitical uncertainties, high unemployment rates and the rising protectionist tendencies; Japan’s economic growth is projected to be as low as 1.0 percent in 2017 according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); And China’s economic growth in 2017 could slow again to 6.5 percent, which would be the slowest pace in more than 25 years. Reflecting the trend, we might see a stagnant growth or even a decline of global textile and apparel trade in 2017 as well.

Nevertheless, companies’ continuous investments on technology and innovation will create exciting new opportunities for the apparel industry. Particularly, growing areas in the apparel industry such as 3D printing, wearable technology, digital prototyping and e-commerce have made many “non-traditional” players now interested in fashion, including technology giants like Google and Apple. I think we can expect the apparel industry to become even more modern and high-tech driven in the years to come. The changing nature of the apparel industry will also increase demand for talents from an ever more diversified educational background, such as engineering, physical therapy and business analytics.

2: What’s happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2017, and what strategies can help apparel firms and their suppliers to stay ahead?

One observation from me is that textile and apparel (T&A) supply chain is becoming more regional-based. For example, data from the World Trade Organization (WTO) shows that 91.4 percent of textiles imported by Asian countries in 2015 came from other Asian countries, up from 86.6 percent in 2008. This suggests that Asian countries togetherare building a more integrated T&A supply chain. Likewise, in 2015 close to 90 percent of apparel exported by North, South and Central American countries went to the United States and Canada and 81 percent of apparel exported by EU countries went to other EU countries too. To be noted, all of these three major T&A supply chains are facilitated by respective free trade agreements in the region such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), ASEAN–China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) and of course the common market enjoyed by the EU members. On the other hand, fashion brands and apparel retailers often use the Western-Hemisphere supply chain and EU-based supply chain as a supplement to the Asia-based supply chain for more fashion-oriented or time-sensitive items. I think such a dual-track sourcing strategy will continue in 2017.

Related, I think supply chain management will play a growing important role helping apparel companies control sourcing cost, improve speed to market and better meet consumers’ demand in 2017. An interesting phenomenon revealed by the 2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study released by the U.S. Fashion Industry Association is that around 30 percent of respondents say they plan to consolidate rather than diversify their sourcing base in the next 2 years. As one respondent commented, “(Our) focus right now is really finding efficiencies and maximizing productivity in the supply chain. While we won’t necessarily move out of any countries, we are consolidating the base within regions.”

Last but not least, I think in 2017 apparel companies will continue to give more weight to sustainability and social responsibility in their sourcing decisions. Building a more transparent and sustainable supply chain is an irreversible trend in the apparel industry. 

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

To remain competitive into the future, apparel companies need to be prepared to change and be willing to try something new. Indeed, revolution is coming for the apparel industry, including the way products are made and sourced (example: 3D printing and various digital manufacturing tools), how consumers shop (example: the see-now-buy-now trend) and where and how to sell (example: the booming e-commerce and omni-channel retailing). In the past, small and medium sized companies (SME) were regarded more vulnerable than big players in the apparel industry for business survival.  However, nowadays, without embracing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, even large companies can quickly become “dinosaurs” and find their business struggling. 

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 2017 to be better than 2016, and why?

One thing that keeps me awake at night as a professor is what needs to be changed or updated in our curriculum to better prepare our students for the needs of the apparel industry. Fashion programs like us directly prepare future professionals for the fashion apparel industry. This also means we are not immune to the big shift in the industry either. For example, our course offerings currently include textile science, product development, merchandising, branding and sourcing and trade. But in addition to these conventional topics, what else should be added to the curriculum? What new skill setsor knowledge points will be highly expected by the apparel industry for our students in the future? Personally I think talent training is a critical area that the apparel industry and our fashion educational programs can and should form closer partnership. And the outcomes will be mutual beneficial too.

Trade policy is another area that keeps me awake at night. Trade policy matters for the apparel industry because it affects the quantity, price and availability of products in the market. Specifically, in 2017 I will be watching closely about the following trade agendas: 1) the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which is nearing entering into force. TFA aims to make customs and border procedures easier, speed up the passage of goods between countries and lower cost of trade.

2) negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In 2015, the sixteen RCEP members altogether exported $369 billion worth of textile and apparel (50% of world share) and imported $124 billion (34% of world share). Since the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) won’t be implemented anytime soon, RCEP has the potential to influence and reshape the T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region.

3) a possible revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA is a critical factor facilitating and maintaining the Western-Hemisphere textile and apparel supply chain. A recent study of mine shows that ending the NAFTA would significantly hurt apparel manufacturing in Mexico and textile manufacturing in the United States, largely because apparel “Made in Mexico” today often contains yarns and fabrics “Made in USA”.

4) Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Although many people think these two agreements are dead, I disagree. TPP and T-TIP are NOT conventional free trade agreements (FTAs) that deal with tariffs and non-tariff barriers only. Just like why we need traffic rules, TPP and T-TIP address our needs to update international trade regulations on 21st century trade agendas such as digital trade, state-owned enterprises, labor and environmental standards, small and medium sized enterprises and trade related investment. On the other hand, both TPP and T-TIP still have a solid and broad supporting base, which includes the fashion apparel industry. If trade politics is why TPP and T-TIP are in trouble, for the same reason, we should expect a reversal of the fate of these two agreements when time arrives. Plus, we should never underestimate the creativity and wisdom of trade policymakers.

Sheng Lu

New USCBC Study Suggests Overall Positive Impacts of China on the US economy

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Although the trade relationship with China is often blamed for causing job losses in the United States, a new study prepared for the U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC) by Oxford Economics suggests overall positive impacts of China on the US economy. According to the study:

  • China has grown to become the third-largest destination for American goods and services, only after Mexico and Canada. China purchased $165 billion in goods and services from the United States in 2015, representing 7.3 percent of all US exports and about 1 percent of total US economic output. By 2030, US exports to China are projected to rise to more than $520 billion annually.
  • The US-China trade relationship supports roughly 2.6 million jobs in the United States. Specifically, US exports to China directly and indirectly supported 8 million new jobs in 2015.
  • The reported gross US trade deficit with China is overstated and somehow misleading. As China has become an integral part of the global manufacturing supply chain, much of its exports are comprised of foreign-produced components delivered for final assembly in China. If the value of these imported components is subtracted from China’s exports, the US trade deficit with China is reduced by half, to about 1 percent of GDP—about the same as the US trade deficit with the European Union.
  • Additionally, “Made in China” lowered prices in the United States for consumer goods. As estimated, US consumer prices are 1 percent – 1.5 percent lower because of Chinese imports–trade with China saved each American household up to $850 in 2015. Given the fact that hourly labor costs in the textile industry were $2.65 in China in 2014 compared with $17.71 in the United States, the report argues that replacing Chinese imports of textiles and clothing with US manufactured products would significantly raise US consumer prices.

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In terms of the textile and apparel (T&A) sector, the report suggests that:

  • The rising U.S. import from China mostly represents China’s displacement of imports from other countries and regions: China has been squeezing out traditional apparel manufacturers such as Mexico, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
  • Meanwhile, textile and apparel manufacturing is one of the very few sectors that observe a paralleled pattern of rising imports from China and declining gross value added in the United States since 2000. In comparison, over the same period other sectors that experienced the most rapid growth in Chinese imports are also the sectors where US businesses have seen the strongest growth.

The report can be downloaded from HERE.

Made in the USA Textiles and Apparel:Facts and Future

The presentation is the outcome of Jillian Luetje‘s honor project in FASH455 (Fall 2016). In the project, Jillian explored the facts and future of “Made in USA” textile and apparel based on her research of existing literature and interviews with U.S. trade officials. The presentation intends to help the audience (especially those new to the area of textile and apparel trade and trade policy) have a basic understanding of the topic.  

Key findings:

  • Textile and apparel manufacturing in the USA is NOT totally gone.
  • The U.S. textile industry in particular relies on the Western Hemisphere supply chain and related free trade agreements
  • Made in the USA apparel is not going to increase any time soon.

Welcome for any comments and suggestions!

Outlook for Trade Policy in the Trump Administration and Impact on the Textile and Apparel Industry: A Summary of Views from Experts

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TPP is in trouble, but NOT dead

David Spooner, Partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Former Chief Textile & Apparel Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration: “it will be a tough road to pass it (the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP) during the Trump Administration…However, there may be opportunities for the (fashion) industry if Trump brings new faces to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and takes a fresh look at trade agreements.” Source: https://www.usfashionindustry.com/news/off-the-cuff-newsletter/2803-recap-28th-apparel-importers-trade-transportation-conference

Jeffrey J. Schott, Senior Fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics: “What’s the future for TPP? Most likely, Trump will simply not implement it. Without US participation, the pact cannot definitively enter into force. It’s death by malign neglect.” “But the 11 other TPP countries may not sit idly on the sidelines waiting for US ratification. Instead, they could agree among themselves to extend the TPP benefits to each other on a provisional basis, leaving the door open for US participation in the future. If the United States subsequently ratifies the TPP, the pact would then enter into force on a permanent basis.” Source: https://piie.com/blogs/trade-investment-policy-watch/tpp-could-go-forward-without-united-states

Steve Warner, President/CEO BeaverLake6 Group LLC, former President and CEO of the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI): “TPP was dead going forward. TPP isn’t actually bad for the technical textiles industry except in a few instances. The real bad culprit, though, is the passage of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which I opposed when it was being hotly debated in 2015. TPA gave no wiggle room for lawmakers to make even slight changes in the TPP when it was presented by the Obama administration that could at least mollify a representative’s constituents. You couldn’t just like parts of the agreement; you had to like all of it. Thus, you were either with it entirely or have to go against it. It proved to be safer to go against it. As for T-TIP, it was going to be a tough deal to conclude when the European Union insisted a primary objective for them was the elimination of the Berry Amendment protection for US domestic manufacturers” Source: http://www.beaverlake6.com/in-my-opinion/

Face uncertainties but with hope

Michael Singer, vice president of customs compliance at Macy’s and chairman of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA): “I do see some opportunities believe it or not, and I had to struggle really hard to come up with something positive. From the regulatory basis, there may be an opportunity for some easing of government laws and mandates.” “One of the key issues we now face is how the administration and Congress will handle trade issues in 2017… We all know how important trade and the access to world markets is in our ability to provide our customers the choices and products they expected, and yet there is no doubt the protectionist sentiment in our country is at historic levels. USFIA will be doing our best to make sure that this remains a top priority and we clearly communicate the importance and benefit of trade to U.S. consumers and the U.S. economy.” Source: http://wwd.com/business-news/government-trade/donald-trump-on-trade-taxes-and-regulations-10702130/

 Julia Hughes, President of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association (USFIA): “A lot of folks were surprised by the (election) outcome… We can see we have our work cut out for us…We’re going to be dealing with a lot of unknowns even with the continuation of a Republican Congress.” Source: http://www.just-style.com/analysis/tpp-is-not-going-to-happen-in-a-trump-administration_id129272.aspx

Daniel J. Ikenson, director of Cato’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies: “If he (Trump) is able to expand and diversify the pool of people advising him, there is a reasonable chance that President Trump’s actions will be less bellicose than his rhetoric has been. After all, as someone who wants to make America “great again,” President-elect Trump will want the policies implemented by his administration to help grow the economy. Trade agreements have succeeded in that regard and, in addition to the TPP, there are plenty of countries and regions willing to partner, including the European Union and the United Kingdom (separately), and plenty of alternative negotiating platforms for accomplishing trade and investment liberalization. ” Source: https://www.cato.org/blog/shifting-gears-contemplate-trumps-trade-policies

David Spooner, Partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Former Chief Textile & Apparel Negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Import Administration: “I think there’s some opportunity in a Trump administration…Assuming chaos provides opportunities, and if Trump brings in new faces to USTR, it might give us an opportunity to do new things in trade. We’ve been screwed by the yarn-forward rule for decades. Maybe there’s an opportunity to do things, even if it’s around the margins.” Source: https://sourcingjournalonline.com/tpp-ttip-wont-happen-trump-administration/

Robert Antoshak, managing director at Olah Inc.: “First, (Trump) he’ll let TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership) just wither on the vine. It’s pretty easy to kill TPP by doing nothing; Congress hasn’t voted on it yet. Next, he may activate the escape clause in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico), which gives signatories a six-month window to exit the agreement. During that time, he could use an exit for political gain in the media – imagine the headlines about the US pulling out of NAFTA – but in reality, he could use the time to renegotiate portions of the agreement. And then there’s T-TIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership free trade deal with the EU. Personally, I’m going to keep a close eye on relations between the White House and 10 Downing Street. The commonalities between the forces supporting Brexit and Trump are all too similar. Why negotiate with all of the EU, when it may be more politically expedient for Trump to negotiate a separate economic-trade deal with Theresa May?” “I am confident that he (Trump) will attempt to alter the global hierarchy. One way of changing the system will be to focus on trade. He can make tactical adjustments to trade policy that will not only give him the front-page news he craves, but will enact the kind of systemic change upon which he ran for president.” Source: http://www.just-style.com/comment/trump-trade-policy-who-knows-what-hell-do_id129295.aspx

US-China Trade War? Keep a close watch

Augustine Tantillo, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO): “(I) would be surprised if Trump does not take some steps to crack down on currency devaluation, particularly as it relates to China.” Source: http://wwd.com/business-news/government-trade/donald-trump-on-trade-taxes-and-regulations-10702130/

 Chad Bown, Senior Fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics: “What he (Trump) has said is that they (China) manipulate their currency and he has threatened to impose tariffs upwards of 45%. The concerns with doing that is that we (USA) do have a trade agreement with 163 other economies of the world, the WTO. China is a part of that and by doing that (imposing tariffs upwards of 45%) unilaterally, would be violating our commitments, legal commitments to our trading partners under that deal and China would be authorized and probably would retaliate and strike back and probably do the same thing against the United States which would mean U.S. companies and exporters that make goods and agricultural products, and send those to China would suffer as a retaliatory response.” Source: https://www.c-span.org/video/?417891-3/washington-journal-chad-bown-trade-policy-trump-administration

Textile and apparel industry needs NAFTA 

Steve Lamar, executive vice president for the American Apparel & Footwear Association(AAFA): “It is well established that CAFTA and NAFTA are critical for the U.S. textile and apparel industry. The things we have continued to argue is how to find ways to make it better… NAFTA was negotiated when there were no other free-trade agreements and the world was surrounded by quotas and rules of origin that catered to the United States. But the industry has evolved.” “Trump will renegotiate NAFTA and is only threatening to abrogate the free-trade accord… Trump likes to build up leverage to get the best possible deal, and he can view trade with that same lens.” Source: https://www.apparelnews.net/news/2016/nov/17/how-would-end-nafta-affect-la-apparel-industry/

Augustine Tantillo, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO): “there will be a ‘level of caution,’ when it comes to renegotiating NAFTA. This agreement has been in place for a while and it would be clearly disruptive to simply walk away from it at this point.” Source: http://wwd.com/business-news/government-trade/donald-trump-on-trade-taxes-and-regulations-10702130/

Leonie Barrie, Managing editor of Just-Style: “Will a Trump administration revisit NAFTA? Such a prospect is a concerning one because NAFTA’s free trade framework with Mexico has been at the heart of many sourcing strategies in North America. The US exported $6.5bn of apparel and textiles to Mexico last year and, in turn, Mexico shipped $4.2bn to the US. Earlier this year executives told just-style that if Trump went ahead with threats to build a 3,200-kilometre fence on the Mexican-American border to stem immigration, it could cut $2.2bn or 20% of the $11bn in US-Mexican textiles and apparel trade in its first year.” Source: http://www.just-style.com/comment/what-might-a-trump-presidency-mean-for-apparel_id129260.aspx

Please feel free to respond to any comments above or leave your thoughts.

The Future of the Asia-Pacific Region as a Textile and Apparel Sourcing Destination: Discussion Questions Proposed by FASH455

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#1 How have US importers/retailers/fashion brands which source from China reacted to China’s rising labor cost in recent years? Any specific examples of companies’ practices and strategies?

#2 It is widely reported that China’s labor cost has been rising quickly in recent years (around 14% annually between 2010 and 2014). But trade data didn’t show a significant drop of China’s textile and apparel exports to the US. Why is that?

#3 Why do you think people have a conception of China being a “highly reliable” sourcing destination for textile and apparel? What is China’s unique competitiveness?

#4 Many domestic and foreign firms have started investing in textile/fiber factories in Vietnam because of the yarn forward rules of origin in TPP. Would it be in the United States’ best interest to become one of these investors? Why or why not?

#5 In the class we discussed the “flying geese model” and the phenomenon of “Factory Asia”. Particularly, Asian countries are forming an ever more integrated textile and apparel supply chain—for example, apparel manufacturers in Asia are gradually using more textile inputs made in Asia rather than made outside the region. Does it mean that the United States has no role to play in Asia-based textile and apparel supply chain? Will the TPP make a difference?

#6 Should US allow China to join the TPP? Why or why not? If China joins the TPP, what will be the implications for the pattern of textile and apparel trade in the Asia-Pacific region?

 #7 What is the relationship between the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? Alternatives? Competitors? Friends? Foes? Why are there so many different free trade agreements (FTA) in the same region?

Please feel free to share your thoughts and recommend any additional articles/readings/resources relevant to the discussion. Please mention the question # in your reply.

 

Chinese Manufacturer to Open $20 Million Garment Factory in the US

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We all know that China is the single largest supplier of textile and apparel to the U.S. market. But on Oct 20, 2016, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tianyuan Garments Company, a Chinese sport apparel manufacturer based in Suzhou, China will invest $20 million to build a new garment factory in the Little Rock area of Arkansas.

Tianyuan, founded in 1998, is a garment maker specializing in the production of casual and sport apparel, including garment for Adidas, Reebok and Armani. With five facilities in China, Tianyuan was named one of the top 100 garment companies in China in 2015. Tianyuan’s annual production rate is nearly 10 million articles and clothing. The company currently supplies 90% of the garments marketed by Adidas, which is the second-largest global sports and apparel maker behind Nike. Tianyuan was also one of several suppliers for the 2014 World Cup and for the Italian Olympic Team in 2016.  

According to the Memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by Hutchinson and Tianyuan executives, the Chinese apparel giant will hire 400 full-time workers primarily from Arkansas within four years of starting operations in central Arkansas. It is said that these workers will be paid around $14/hour.

As part of the deal, Arkansas offers an incentive package that will include five-year, 3.9% annual tax rebate worth nearly $1.6 million annually. Other incentives include a $1 million infrastructure assistance grant for building improvements and equipment purchases, as well as a $500,000 stipend for worker training.

Arkansas will also help provide assistance in helping Tianyuan get 20 work visas for company executives who will live in Arkansas or travel between the U.S. and China on business related to the Little Rock manufacturing plant. Furthermore, the Chinese garment maker will receive abatement of up to 65% of property taxes from the city of Little Rock and Pulaski County.

Tianyuan is not the only Chinese textile and apparel company that invests in the US in recent years. Back in 2013, Keer Group, a Chinese textile company founded in 1995 and based in Zhejiang, China opened a new facility in Lancaster County, South Carolina as the base of operations for Keer Group’s expansion into the North American market. With $218 million total investment in 5 years, Keer America plans to open one plant with manufacturing capacity of 30,000 metric tons of yarn per year and another plant with 75,000 spindles to make 50 metric tons of yarns daily.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the following discussion questions:

  1. Why do you think Tianyuan and Keer group decide to open factories in the US? Based on your research, do you think Tianyuan and Keer’s investments reflect a growing trend in the industry or are they just two individual cases?
  2. In your view, are investments made by Tianyuan and Keer group good or bad for the US economy? Why?
  3. What is the business outlook for Tianyuan’s garment factory in the US and Keer America? What are their opportunities and challenges?
  4. Any other thoughts or questions for the case?

[Discussion for this post is closed]

CRS Releases Updated Study on the U.S. Textile Industry and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

crs-reportOn September 1, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released its updated study on the U.S. textile industry and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). According to the report:

First, TPP is suggested to have a limited impact on U.S. domestic textile and apparel manufacturing, because:

1) Automation rather than imports is found to be the top factor causing job losses in the U.S. textile industry in the past decade;

2) U.S. is one of the very few TPP members whose textile output mostly went into home textiles, floor coverings and other technical textile products rather than apparel.

3) More than 90% of apparel sold in the United States is already imported. Some companies maintain U.S. manufacturing of high-value products or products requiring quick delivery, which are not likely to be supplied by other TPP members.

4) A quantitative assessment conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in May also suggests that U.S. imports of textiles will only climb 1.6% by 2032 if TPP enters into force in 2017. Over the same 15-year period, both output and employment in the U.S. textile industry could slightly shrink by 0.4% as a result of the implementation of TPP.

Second, TPP could challenge the Western-Hemisphere supply chain and negatively affect U.S. textile exports to the region:

1) TPP will make apparel manufacturers located in Mexico and Central America lose one important advantage—duty free access to the U.S. market, when competing with Asian TPP members such as Vietnam and Malaysia.  The Central American-Dominican Republic Apparel and Textile Council also estimates the CAFTA-DR region could see a contraction of 15%-18% in industrial employment resulting from lost production orders in the first year after the TPP agreement is implemented.

2) The major products sourced by U.S. apparel companies from the Western Hemisphere region include basic, low-value knitwear garments such as shirts, pants, underwear, and nightwear, with a focus on men’s and boys’ wear. However, these products are with low time sensitivity but high price sensitivity, meaning Asian TPP members can easily offer a more competitive price and take away sourcing orders after the implementation of TPP.  

3) Because of physical distance and abundance of local supply, leading Asian TPP apparel exporters such as Vietnam seldom use US-made yarns and fabrics. Supported by foreign investments, Vietnam is also quickly building up its own textile manufacturing capacity, which is expected to reach 2 million metric tons for fabrics and 650,000 metric tons for fibers by 2020. This implies that TPP may help little creating new export markets for US textile products, despite the restrictive yarn forward rules of origin.

Additionally, TPP could result in intensified competition in the technical textile area, which is of strategic importance to the future of the U.S. textile industry:

1) If the proposed agreement is implemented, those segments of the U.S. textile industry that supply industrial textiles are likely to face greater competition from rising imports from Japan.

2) TPP will allow Japanese industrial textiles to newly get duty free access to Mexico and Canada, which are the largest export markets for U.S. industrial fabrics in 2015. However, TPP won’t help US companies get more favorable access to China, which is the top export market for Japanese industrial fabrics.

2016 August Sourcing at Magic Debriefing

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New landscape of sourcing

  • Sourcing is turning from regional to global. In the past, U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands set up regional offices to handle sourcing. Nowadays, companies are building a global infrastructure to develop, source and market their products around world. Global rather than regional sourcing also allows companies to improve sourcing efficiency and reduce total product and distribution cost while maintaining quality of their product and services.
  • U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are going with fewer but more capable vendors (“super vendors”). For example, executive from a leading U.S. apparel brand said their company has shrunk their sourcing base by 40% in the past few years. At the same time, they now expect their vendors to be able to supply on a global scale, including having multiple manufacturing facilities around the world and being able to provide value added services such as design and product development.
  • Related, sourcing is shifting from cut-make-and trim (CMT) to full package. This is consistent with our findings in the latest USFIA benchmarking study which suggests that vendors are highly expected to have the capacity of supplying raw material.
  • U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are also investing to build a more partnership-based relationship with vendors— help vendors reduce cost, become more innovative and have the same vision looking at the whole picture of the supply chain. At the same time, U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands see vendors as their “ambassadors” and want to know more about them—what they believe, what they can bring to the table and how they treat their workers.
  • Companies are redefining the role of sourcing in their businesses. Sourcing is no longer treated as a technical function, but an integral part of a company’s overall business strategy.  

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Made in USA

  • There is a noticeable interest in sourcing textiles and apparel “Made in USA” at Magic. A dozen U.S.-based apparel companies attended the Magic show and their booths attracted a heavy traffic. According to representatives from these companies, U.S. consumers’ increased demand for apparel “Made in USA” has been a strong support for their business growth in recent years.
  • Nevertheless, apparel “Made in USA” often contain imported inputs today. I specifically asked a few vendors where their fabrics come from. All but one company said fabrics were imported because it was so hard to find domestic suppliers, especially for woven fabrics. Interesting enough, some companies feel OK to label their apparel “Made in USA” even though they use imported fabrics. According to them, apparel can be labeled “Made in USA” as long as “domestic content exceeds 60% of the value of the finished product.”
  • At a seminar, some entrepreneurs which make and sell “Made in USA” apparel and accessories said price and production cost remain one of their top business challenges. I asked the panel whether going high-end is the only option for the future of apparel “Made in USA” given the high labor cost in the country. They disagreed—saying technology advancement and design innovation could help reduce production cost. However, all panelists admit they carry some luxury product lines. Additionally, some companies choose to emphasize concepts other than “Made in USA”, such as “hand-made” and “Pride in Seattle”, in order to make their products look more personal to consumers and allow more flexibility in sourcing raw material.

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Updates of sourcing destinations

  • Ethiopia: as I observe, Ethiopia is THE star at this year’s Sourcing at Magic. The country was repeatedly mentioned by panelists at various seminars as a promising and emerging sourcing destination. Several events at the show were also exclusively dedicated to promoting apparel and footwear “Made in Ethiopia”. A couple of reasons why Ethiopia is so “hot”: 1) the ten year extension of AGOA creates a stable market environment encouraging sourcing from Africa and investing in the region (and for sure the duty free access both to the US and EU market).  2) Located in the middle of Africa, Ethiopia is regarded as a hub that has the potential to take a leadership role in integrating the apparel supply chain in the region. 3) It is said that Ethiopian government is very supportive to the development of the local textile industry.  4) Many U.S. fashion companies feel sourcing from Ethiopia involves less risks of trade compliance than sourcing from some Asian countries such as Bangladesh.  
  • China: China unarguably remains the No.1 textile and apparel supplier to the U.S. market—in terms of numbers, around 60% vendors at the Magic show came from China. But I notice that booths of Chinese vendors didn’t have much traffic this time, an interesting signal for sourcing trend in the upcoming season. Nevertheless, while U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are placing more emphasis on supply chain efficiency, quality of products, speed to market and added value in sourcing, “Made in China” will continue to enjoy many unique advantages over other suppliers. Plus, Chinse factories are actively investing overseas, from Southeast Asian countries to Africa. This makes Chinese factories likely to grow into “super vendors” that western fashion brands/retailers are looking for. To certain extent, macro trade statistics alone may not be able to fully reveal what is going on in apparel sourcing and trade.   
  • Vietnam: Regarding the future of Vietnam as a sourcing destination for U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands, somehow I hear more concerns than excitements at Magic. The uncertainty surrounding the ratification of TPP by the U.S. Congress definitely has made some companies hold back their investment and sourcing plan in Vietnam. Another big concern is Vietnam’s labor shortage and limited manufacturing capacity: apparel factories in Vietnam are already competing with electronic industry for young skilled workers. US companies also have to compete with their EU counterparts for orders in Vietnam. The newly reached EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which is very likely to be implemented earlier than TPP, provides Vietnam duty free access also to the EU market. And EVFTA adopts a much more flexible rule of origin than TPP, making it easier for Vietnam factories to actually use the agreement.

Sustainability

The awareness of social responsibility and sustainability has much improved: everyone in the industry is talking about them and have a view on them. On a voluntary basis, some companies are making efforts to improve traceability of their products, i.e. to help consumers know exactly where their clothing comes from and what is happening at the upstream of the supply chain. Yet, how to encourage factories to share their information and control tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers remain a challenge. 

by Sheng Lu

Note: Sourcing at Magic is one of the largest and most influential annual textile and apparel sourcing events hosted in the United States. Special thanks to the Center for Global and Areas Studies at the University of Delaware for funding the trip.