Evolving Patterns and Social Economic Impacts of World Textiles and Apparel Trade: Discussions Questions from FASH455

 

Patterns of world textile and apparel trade

#1 Based on the readings, why or why not do you think Africa is on the right track to become the next hub for apparel sourcing for western fashion brands?

#2 Based on the readings, do you think that any of the countries/regions discussed can become the “next China?” If so, what are the challenges faced by these exporters that have been gaining market shares (such as Vietnam and Bangladesh)?

#3 Why is Asian companies investing the most into the apparel industry in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) rather than U.S. or EU investors? Notably, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a trade preference program between the U.S. and SSA countries.

#4 If the punitive tariffs on Chinese goods are removed next year, why or why do you think U.S. retailers will increase apparel sourcing from China again?

#5 To which extent do you think the comparative advantage theory can explain the evolving world textile and apparel trade patterns?

#6 What policies or strategies could the US government use to convince companies to invest in the Sub-Saharan African region instead of countries like China and Vietnam?

Debate on used clothing trade

#7 Did you feel that the United States really explored every and any possible solution before deciding to suspend Rwanda’s eligibility under the AGOA? If not, what more could they have done or done differently?

#8 The US-EAC trade dispute on used clothing import ban is a very multilayered matter, which can be broken down with the help of trade preference programs. How can we improve the effectiveness of these trade preference programs and revolutionize them to become more significant in today’s economy?

#9 EAC countries are having a difficult time developing their local textile and apparel industry due to the large amounts of used clothing being imported and even proposed a high tariff to lower the amount of clothing being imported. Do you believe the ban on used clothing is the only option they have left for economic growth? If not, what are some ideas of ways they can grow their economy?

#10 The EAC countries have shown their unwillingness to used clothing trade. However, the US has presented that they are indifferent to regulate the used clothing trade as they are one of the biggest used clothing exporters. Are there any solutions to achieve the win-win situation on used clothing trade?

#11 The used clothing ban is put in place in order to develop the apparel and textile industry, but there needs to be more education for countries on sustainability. There is a big stigma about used clothing that needs to be abolished as well. An alternative to this ban is allowing used clothing, but also creating new clothing more sustainably so apparel and textile companies can profit. What are some other sustainable alternatives that benefit both sides?

#12 Given the debate on used clothing trade and its impact on East African nations, will you continue to donate used clothing? Why or why not?

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

Interview with Modaes.es on the Latest Trends of Apparel Sourcing and Trade

The original interview (in Spanish) is available HERE. Below is the translated version.

Question: Is there a reversal in the globalization of fashion?

Sheng Lu: The fashion industry is becoming more global AND regional — the making and selling of a garment “travel” through more and more countries. Just look at the label of a Gap sweatshirt: it is an American clothing brand, but the product is “Made in Vietnam,” and the label includes the size standards in six different countries. The business model of the fashion industry today is “making anywhere in the world and selling anywhere in the world.”

Q .: What do you mean the industry is becoming more “regional”?

Sheng Lu: The trade flows of textiles and apparel today are heavily influenced by regional free trade agreements (FTAs). For example, while China is known as the world’s largest apparel producer and exporter, nearly 50% of the clothing consumed by European consumers are still produced by EU countries themselves. Notably, consumers have different expectations for clothing: many are price-sensitive, but others prefer more trendy items, which requires “near sourcing”—this explains why fashion companies have to adopt a more balanced sourcing portfolio.

Q .: Is the price still the most important factor in fashion companies’ sourcing decisions?

Sheng Lu: Sourcing is far more than just about chasing for the lowest cost. Sourcing decisions today have to consider a mix of factors, ranging from flexibility, speed to market, sustainability, to compliance risks. In fact, few companies “put all eggs in one basket.” My recent studies show that both in the United States and the EU, fashion companies with more than 1,000 employees, typically sourced from more than twenty different countries—sometimes even exceed forty. Behind such a diversified sourcing practice is the necessity to strike a balance between so many different sourcing factors.

Q .: Is apparel sourcing becoming more diversified today than a decade ago?

Sheng Lu: From my observations, fashion companies are souring from more countries and regions than a decade ago, but not in terms of producers. Especially in the last two or three years, I see some large companies are consolidating their supplier base to build a closer relationship with key vendors. The reason is the same as mentioned earlier: a very competitive price is not enough for apparel sourcing today.

Q .: How has the tariff war between the United States and China affected apparel sourcing?

Sheng Lu: The trade war between the United States and China is having big impacts on apparel sourcing that go beyond the two countries. Notably, American fashion brands and retailers are moving sourcing orders from China to other Asian countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh. However, finding China’s alternatives is anything but easy. Despite the tariff war, China remains a competitive player in apparel sourcing. The unparalleled production capacity that can fulfill orders nearly for any products in any quantity, and the ability to comply with complex sustainability and social responsibility regulations are among China’s unique competitive advantages. Understandably, companies are not giving up sourcing from China, as there are few other “balanced” sourcing destinations in the world. That being said, it is important to recognize that the big landscape of apparel sourcing is evolving. Even in Europe, which is not having a trade war with China, apparel “Made in China” is seeing a notable decline in its market share.

Q .: How is China adapting?

Sheng Lu: The textile and apparel industry in China is undergoing a structural change. Partially caused by the tariff war, apparel producers in China are increasingly moving their factories to nearby Asian countries (especially for big-volume and/or relatively low value-added product categories). Meanwhile, China itself is changing from an apparel producer to become a leading textile supplier for other apparel-exporting countries in Asia. This is NOT a temporary move, but a permanent transition, which has happened in many industrialized economies in history. Somehow, the tariff war has accelerated the adjustment process, however.

Q .: Will Africa be the next hub for apparel sourcing in the near future?

Sheng Lu: As textile and clothing trade is turning more regional-based, Africa is facing significant challenges to become an attractive tier-1 sourcing base for Western fashion brands and apparel retailers.

Q .: Why is that?

Sheng Lu: In general, there are three primary apparel import markets in the world: the United States, the European Union, and Japan—as of 2018, these three regions altogether still accounted for as many as 70% of the world apparel imports. Surely, Asian countries are important apparel suppliers for all these three regions. However, each of these three markets also has its respective regional suppliers—Mexico and Central & South American countries for the United States, China, and a few Southeast Asian countries for Japan and Eastern European countries for the EU market. Other than geographic proximity, often, these regional suppliers also enjoy preferential market access to the US, EU, and Japan provided by regional free trade agreements.

Africa, on the other hand, is not close to any of these three major apparel import markets geographically. Why would fashion companies in the United States, Japan, or the EU have to source from Africa when there are so many other options available?

Q .: For price?

Sheng Lu: Several trade preference programs currently offer apparel exporters in African countries preferential or duty-free market access to the United States, the EU, and Japan (such as the African Growth Opportunity Act and the EU and Japan Generalized System of Preferences programs). However, sourcing from Africa will entail other extra costs—for example, the raw material cost will be higher as yarns and fabrics have to be imported from Asia first, and the transportation bill could be costly due to the poor infrastructure. Further, not like their counterpart in Asia, the apparel industry is not regarded as a development priority in many African countries, which continue to rely heavily on the export of raw materials instead. Manufacturing for the local market is also complicated—apparel producers in Africa are struggling with both the cheap clothing imported from Asia and the mounting used clothing sent from the West.

Q .: It is said that fashion might be the most regulated sector in international trade other than agriculture. How to explain this?

Sheng Lu:  I think we need some changes here. For example, in 2018, textiles and apparel accounted for only 5% of the total U.S. merchandise imports but contributed nearly 40% of the tariff revenue collected. This phenomenon, which makes no sense economically, is the result of the industry lobby—trying to protect domestic manufacturers from import competition.

As another example, around 15%-17% of Mexico’s clothing exports to the United States do not claim the duty-free benefits provided by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as the NAFTA rules of origin strictly require the using of regional yarns and fabrics for qualified apparel items. In the end, companies prefer bigger savings on the raw material cost than claiming the NAFTA duty-saving benefits. We should think about how to modernize these trade rules and make them more supply-chain friendly in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, policymakers are developing new regulations to address some emerging areas in international trade, such as E-commerce, labor standards and environmental protection. Increasingly, trade policy is moving from “measures at the border” to “measures behind the borders.”

Challenges facing Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as an Apparel Sourcing Base

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Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is widely regarded as a growing apparel-souring destination. Particularly, U.S. Congress established the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a non-reciprocal trade preference program, in 2000, to help developing SSA countries grow their economy through expanded exports to the United States. Because apparel production plays a dominant role in many SSA countries’ economic development, apparel has become one of the top exports for many SSA countries under AGOA. Notably, the “third-country fabric provision” under AGOA allows US apparel imports from certain SSA countries to be qualified for duty-free treatment even if the apparel items use yarns and fabrics produced by non-AGOA members, such as China, South Korea, and Taiwan. This special rule is deemed as critical as most SSA countries still have no capacity in producing capital and technology-intensive textile products.

That being said, to play a bigger role as an apparel sourcing base, SSA is not without significant challenges:

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Challenge 1: limited industry upgrading and local textile production capacity

Theoretically, as a country’s economy advances, it should gradually be producing and exporting more capital and technology-intensive textiles versus labor-intensive apparel products. This is the notable trends in many Asian countries (such as China and Vietnam), where the textile/apparel export ratio has been rising steadily between 2005 and 2017. However, as a reflection of the stagnant industry upgrading, the textile/apparel export ratio remains fairly low in SSA, including in Lesotho, Kenya, and Mauritius, the top three largest apparel exporters in the SSA region.

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Challenge 2: Slow and no progress in export diversification

Ideally, as the economy becomes more sophisticated, textiles and apparel (T&A) should account for a declining share in a country’s total merchandise exports. Countries such as China, Vietnam, and ASEAN demonstrate perfect examples. However, in some SSA countries (e.g., Lesotho), T&A has stably accounted for over 80% of their total merchandise exports over the past 17 years, a sign of slow or no progress in export diversification. In other SSA countries, T&A accounted for less than 10% of their total merchandise exports, suggesting the sector is not a priority to the local economy.

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Challenge 3: Intense competition both in key export markets and domestic market

As of 2017, over 96% of SSA countries’ T&A exports went to three markets: the United States, the EU, and other SSA members. However, because of the intense competition, except for the regional SSA market, SSA countries account for merely 1.4% and 0.2% of total U.S. and EU textile and apparel imports in 2017 respectively.

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Even more concerning, the T&A industry in SSA countries is facing growing competition in the domestic market with cheap imports, mostly from Asia. Notably, SSA countries import MORE apparel than they export, a phenomenon rarely seen among developing countries in a similar stage of economic development.

Challenge 4: U.S. companies remain low interest in investing in the region directly

According to several recent studies, leading U.S. fashion brands and retailers remain low interest in investing in the SSA region directly, even though companies admit more investments in areas such as infrastructure are critical to the success of SSA countries serving as competitive apparel sourcing bases. Some argue that the “temporary” nature of AGOA make companies hesitant to build factories in SSA. However, should AGOA become a permanent free trade agreement, which follows the principle of reciprocity, SSA countries would have to lower their trade barriers to U.S. products, including eliminating the tariffs and non-tariff barriers, in exchange for the reciprocal market access benefits from the United States. It doesn’t seem most AGOA members are ready for that stage yet.

by Sheng Lu

Further reading: Challenges for sub-Saharan Africa as an apparel sourcing hub

African Growth and Opportunity Act and Textile & Apparel

(In the video: Gail Strickler, former Assistant US Trade Representative for Textiles, highlights the immense opportunities created by the renewal of AGOA for duty-free access to the massive US market for African textile and apparel producers.)

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a non-reciprocal trade agreement enacted in 2000 that provides duty-free treatment to U.S. imports of certain products from eligible sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. AGOA intends to promote market-led economic growth and development in SSA and deepen U.S. trade and investment ties with the region. (note: non-reciprocal means SSA countries do not need to offer equivalent benefits to imports from the United States.)

Because apparel production plays a dominant role in many SSA countries’ economic development, apparel has become one of the top exports for many SSA countries under AGOA.  Like many trade agreements and trade preference programs, AGOA also set unique rules of origin for textile and apparel (T&A):

First, to enjoy the duty-free and quota-free treatment in the US market, eligible T&A products made in qualifying AGOA countries need to be one of the following categories:

  • Apparel made with US yarns and fabrics;
  • Apparel made with Sub-Saharan African (SSA) regional yarns and fabrics, subject to a cap;
  • Apparel made with yarns and fabrics not produced in commercial quantities in the United States;
  • Certain cashmere and merino wool sweaters; and
  • Eligible hand-loomed, handmade or folklore articles and ethnic printed fabrics.

Second, under a special rule called “third-country fabric” provision, AGOA countries with lesser-developed countries (LDBC) status can further enjoy duty-free access in the US market for apparel made from yarns and fabric originating anywhere in the world (such as China, South Korea, and Taiwan). This special rule is deemed as critical because most SSA countries still have no capacity in producing capital and technology-intensive textile products. [Note: Although the US imports of apparel made with third-country fabric are subject to a cap, the cap has never been reached].

According to a 2014 comprehensive study conducted by the USITC, the “third-country fabric” provision has three major benefits to the AGOA members:

1) Increase exports of apparel. This can be evidenced by the fact that most US apparel imports under AGOA came from those countries that are eligible for the “third-country fabric” provision, such as Lesotho, Kenya, Mauritius, and Swaziland. In comparison, because South Africa is not eligible for the “third-country fabric” provision, its apparel exports to the United States had significantly dropped since 2003 and only accounted for 0.6% among AGOA countries in 2013.

2) Encourage foreign investment. From 2003 to 2013, a total 21 T&A FDI projects were made in SSA, among which 18 projects (or 85.7%) were greenfield FDI. The third-country fabric provision is the main driver for these FDI projects. For example, many Chinese and Taiwanese investors had opened apparel factories in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria and Tanzania as a source of exports to the United States and the EU.

3) Enhance trade diversification. Theoretically, relaxing rules of origin (RoO) such as the third-fabric provision can free up companies’ resources and allow them to expand export product lines. As observed by a few empirical studies, AGOA’s third-country fabric provision helped related countries increase the varieties of apparel exports between 39 and 61 percent.

AGOA receives new authorization in 2015, which will last for 10 years until 2025 (including the 3rd country fabric provision). This ten-year renewal of AGOA is regarded as critical and necessary to encourage more long-term investment in the region. As put by Florizelle Liser, Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa “What we know is that African producers of apparel, like producers of apparel all around the world, need to have the flexibility to source their input from wherever of those can be produced most effectively, cost effectively for the products that they are sewing. So we want through the “third country fabric” provision to give the African producers of apparel that flexibility. We do know in terms of establishing textiles business on the ground producing those inputs right there in Africa and that more of that indeed is going to happen. The reason is that as U.S. buyers of apparel and this is an enormous market for apparel… as U.S. buyers of apparel source more of their apparel from Africa, then investors in textile mills, which are very expensive, will be incentivized and are being incentivized to actually establish those fabric mills right there in Africa, and then be able to save time, in terms of getting those inputs that are needed for the clothing that is being produced. So we see that happening already: it’s happening in Kenya, it’s happening in Ethiopia and around the continent. And that is what we need to have more of as we go forward in this ten-year extension of AGOA.”

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Apparel Sourcing Opportunities in Madagascar and Mauritius


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

  1. Why does the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) promote apparel sourcing from Africa?
  2. From the video, how do you see the social and economic impact of the textile and apparel industry on Madagascar and Mauritius?
  3. Do we need African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)? Why or why not?
  4. With regard to the status of the textile and apparel industry in Madagascar and Mauritius, anything shown in the video interests or surprises you?

Does AGOA’s “third country fabric” provision discourage the development of Africa’s local textile industry?

African-textilesThe following Q&A is adapted from the 2015 AGOA Forum Preview (15m:44s)

Question: What is the principal obstacle to the development of a local yarn industry in an apparel exporting country such as Kenya? Does AGOA’s “third country fabric” provision in place for 13 years act as a disincentive to such a development?

Florizelle Liser, Assistant US Trade Representative for Africa: That’s a really good question, but the answer is no. What we know is that African producers of apparel, like producers of apparel all around the world, need to have the flexibility to source their input from wherever of those can be produced most effectively, cost effectively for the products that they are sewing. So we want through the “third country fabric” provision to give the African producers of apparel that flexibility. We do know in terms of establishing textiles business on the ground producing those inputs right there in Africa and that more of that indeed is going to happen. The reason is that as U.S. buyers of apparel and this is an enormous market for apparel… as U.S. buyers of apparel source more of their apparel from Africa, then investors in textile mills, which are very expensive, will be incentivized and are being incentivized to actually establish those fabric mills right there in Africa, and then be able to save time, in terms of getting those inputs that are needed for the clothing that is being produced. So we see that happening already: it’s happening in Kenya, it’s happening in Ethiopia and around the continent. And that is what we need to have more of as we go forward in this ten-year extension of AGOA.

What do you think?

Sourcing Opportunity in Africa

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Although Africa only accounted for 0.55% of world textile and apparel (T&A) exports in 2013(WTO, 2014), numerous studies have suggested that this is a region of strategic importance as a sourcing base in the long term. For example, according to one recent study released by McKinsey & Company, among 40 surveyed apparel chief purchasing officers from January to February 2015, around 40 percent expect to be sourcing a greater share of their portfolio from sub-Saharan Africa in the next 5 years.

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Africa is gaining attention as a sourcing base largely because of its growing working-age population, which is expected to surpass China today by 2035 (Note: In comparison, affected by its one-child policy, China’s labor pool could shrink by one-fifth over the next 50 years). The current wage level in Africa is around USD 120 to 150 monthly for garment workers, higher than Bangladesh (USD 91/month), but lower than Vietnam (USD 254/month) and China (USD 324/month).

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However, sourcing from Africa is not without challenges. One big disadvantage of African countries when competing with “factory Asia” is its nascent local textile industry, meaning most fabrics and raw material needed for apparel assembling in Africa has to be imported. As reported by the McKinsey & Company study, among those surveyed companies which involved in sourcing from Sub-Saharan Africa, only around 50% directly source from the region, 15% source via Asian suppliers’ headquarters and 32% source via agents.

Poor infrastructure in Africa further amplifies the problem of heavy reliance on imported fabrics, trims and other supplies. For example, It can add up to 40 days in transit, for fabrics manufactured overseas to come from abroad and make their way through customs and to the factory in Africa.

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Look into the future, the collaboration between local governments, suppliers and buyers is suggested as the key to fully tap the potential of Africa as a sourcing base. Particularly, the McKinsey & Company report suggests US and EU-based apparel companies to evaluate Africa as a strategic option and think about the region beyond the next 2-3 years. Improving workers’ productivity, upgrading the industry to go beyond cut-make-and-trim (CMT) and establishing long-term partnership with buyers are suggested to be prioritized.

TPP Textile Negotiation Updates (March 2015)

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According to Inside US Trade, negotiators continued their work on the technical details of the textile chapter under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the latest round of negotiation in Hawaii. Although progress has been achieved, key issues remain unsolved.   Exceptions to Yarn-Forward Rule of Origin Since the 807A program under the Caribbean Basin Imitative (CBI) enacted in 1998, the so called “yarn-forward” rule of origin has been adopted in almost all free trade agreement (FTA) and trade preference program (TPA) reached between the United States and its trading partners. “Yarn forward” rule requires that each step of apparel production from spinning of the yarn must take place in one of the FTA countries. At the same time, FTA/TPA often adopt exceptions in addition to “yarn-forward” rule so as to provide flexibility to importers, especially in the case when certain textile and apparel products are not available in commercial quantities from the FTA/TPA region. It is almost certain at this point that TPP will continue to adopt the “yarn forward” rules of origin. However, what kind of exceptions to the yarn forward rule will be allowed in TPP remain unclear: 1) How long will be the “short supply” list in TPP? Short supply list is a mechanism which allows fibers, yarns, and fabrics determined not to be available in commercial quantities in a timely manner from within the FTA partner countries to be sourced from outside the countries for use in qualifying textile and apparel products. According to Inside US Trade, some TPP countries want to declare the short-supply list complete as soon as possible so that they can shift the discussion to other possible exceptions to the yarn-forward rule. However, others doubt that the U.S. would be willing to contemplate additional exceptions and therefore believe that the best approach is to keep the short-supply list open and try to add as many products as possible. 2) Whether there will be other exception mechanisms in TPP in addition to the “short supply” list? According to Inside US Trade, there were some discussions on creating a separate mechanism such as the tariff-preference levels (TPL) in TPP. TPL allows for a certain quantity of textile and apparel goods (usually yarns, fabrics and cut pieces) from a third-country (a country who is not a party to the agreement) to qualify for the FTA benefits. Additionally, it is more than just Vietnam that is seeking more exceptions to the “yarn forward” rule in TPP. For example, Australia and New Zealand are also doing so, which may be in large part for tactical reasons — essentially holding up the textile talks as leverage to secure acceptable outcomes in other areas that are more important to them, for instance, agricultural market access or intellectual property. Tariff Phrase-out Mechanism Inside US Trade says that U.S. is sticking to the framework that it laid out in its initial tariff offer, which put products into three categories subject to different phrase-out schedule:

  • X-basket, which covers the most sensitive products that would be subject to an initial cut upon entry into force, but then remain in place until they are eliminated in the tenth year for knit apparel and fifteenth year for woven apparel
  • B-basket, which consists of slightly more sensitive apparel items that would be subject to a linear tariff phase-out over five years
  • A-basket, which consists of least sensitive items whose tariff rate would go to zero immediately upon TPP entries into force

Key questions remain as to which items the United States will place into what basket. Other issues in the textile chapter The TPP textile chapter may also include languages on the following two issues: 1) a special safeguard mechanism under which the importing country can raise tariffs up to the most-favored nation (MFN) level in the case of an import surge; 2) customs language on the inspection mechanism.

Global Apparel and Footwear Market Update—2014

According to the latest estimates from the Euromonitor International, the global apparel and footwear market grew by 5% in value terms in 2013 and will further increase by an incremental US$58 billion to 2018.  Several highlighted findings:

  • China will account for 50% of absolute growth over 2013-2018. It will overtake the US to become the world’s largest apparel and footwear market in 2017.
  • The Middle East and Africa region has also become a new frontier for growth. The region’s apparel and footwear sales are set to rise by US$17.9 billion over 2013-2018.
  • Outlook for the developed markets are mixed. The United States is forecast to be the second largest contributor to global value growth of apparel & footwear sales after China over 2013-2018, ahead of the other BRIC markets. The German market is forecast to contract by US$2.2 billion over 2013-2018. Market growth in Japan will remain static.  
  • Menswear mania continues to grip the global fashion arena. The category grew by 4.8% in 2013, marginally outperforming womenswear’s 4.5%. The trend was evident in major markets including the US, the UK and Germany.
  • The womenswear category was valued at US$684 billion in 2013, accounting for 48% of total global apparel sales. The category is set to expand by a further US$91.8 billion to 2018, with 58% of this increase coming from China alone. International labels Uniqlo, Gap and H&M were the most dynamic womenswear brands in China in 2013.
  • While still a quarter the size of the apparel market, value growth of footwear outpaced that of apparel in 2013, registering a 6.1% yearly gain compared to apparel’s 4.8%.

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Understand the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)

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Although we don’t have time to cover AGOA in the class, it is very beneficial for our FASH students to have some general background knowledge about this important trade agreement.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a non-reciprocal trade agreement enacted in 2000 that provides duty-free treatment to U.S. imports of certain products from eligible sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. AGOA intends to promote market-led economic growth and development in SSA and deepen U.S. trade and investment ties with the region.

Because apparel production plays a dominant role in many SSA countries’ economic development, apparel has become one of the top exports for many SSA countries under AGOA.  Particularly, the “third country fabric provision” under AGOA allows U.S. apparel imports from certain SSA countries to be qualified for duty free treatment even if the apparel use yarns and fabrics produced by non-AGOA countries/regions (such as China, South Korea and Taiwan). This special rule is deemed as critical because most SSA countries still have no capacity in producing capital and technology intensive textile products.

Impact of AGOA on the SSA countries seems mixed, however. On one hand, without AGOA, the SSA countries would not have been able to compete with competitive apparel exporters such as China and India in the U.S. market. Increased apparel exports have also created many manufacturing jobs in the SSA countries, contributing to the local economic and social development. For example, Lesotho, one of the main apparel exporters under AGOA, saw manufacturing jobs rose from 19,000 in 1999 to 45,700 in June 2011.

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On the other hand, however, few SSA countries seem to have taken good advantage of the AGOA to build up their genuine export competitiveness and diversify their economic structure over the past decade. One recent CRS report asserts that “AGOA apparel production is concentrated in the lowest skill tasks with little knowledge transfer to local workers and that the global competitiveness of AGOA exports still depend on their preferential treatment”.

AGOA’s authorization is set to expire on September 30, 2015. Some members of the US Congress, the U.S. apparel industry and several other stakeholders of the agreement have shown interests in renewing AGOA. With respect to the apparel industry, many stakeholders call for a longer reauthorization for the “third country fabric provision” so as to provide a more stable and foreseeable market environment for businesses. However, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), AGOA renewal is complicated by a number of other factors such as the passage of the trade promotion authority (TPA), the progress of several other free trade agreements currently under negotiation, such as the TPP as well as the U.S. congress/political schedule.

The following is the webinar provided by the AAFA on the history, benefits, and challenges of the current AGOA program and how it applies to apparel and footwear companies.

China’s textile and clothing firms expand in Africa

Faced by rising labor cost, China has started thinking about “going globle” for its T&A sector: not product, but capital.

From Just -Style:

“According to William Gumede, a senior research fellow at the University of Witwatersrand’s school of public and development management in South Africa, Chinese domination of Africa’s textile markets and its industry has promoted significant job losses.

“For instance in South Africa, employment in the textile industry dropped from 300,000 workers in 1996 to 120,000 in 2010,” says Gumede when reached for comment by just-style.

And the situation is worse in Nigeria where the country has seen its once burgeoning US$1.3bn spinning industry in disarray, with Chinese cheap fabrics being highlighted as the culprit.

“Since 1995, over 175 textile manufacturing factories have shut down, leaving more than 250,000 workers jobless,” says Jaiyeola Olanrewaju, the director-general of the Nigerian Textiles Manufacturers Association.

And there is concern that some Chinese producers are not playing fair – being accused of mimicking African textile trade marks and unique designs.

“In order to compete favourably, African governments must stop [the] influx of counterfeit and smuggled textiles,” says Dr Walid Jibrin, the chairman of the Northern States Chapter of the Nigerian Textiles Manufacturers Association.

He identifies African prints, shirts, fine wax print textiles, unique Guinea brocades and lace embroideries as examples of African designs and textile trade marks being copied on cheap Asian fabrics and dumped in West Africa.

“The counterfeits have destroyed the handmade traditional textile industry in Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Guinea,” says Dele Hunsu, the president of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria.

AGOA’s preferential access
But probably the most devastating effect of the Chinese textile industry on sub-Saharan Africa’s economic growth is its ability to piggy-back on the US’s year 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

Chinese firms have benefited from the region’s preferential access to the US by establishing Chinese-owned subsidiaries in the region. AGOA of course creates a trading advantage for sub-Saharan Africa’s textile industries to access the United States market.

According to Ms Ciliaka Millicent Gitau, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s School of Economics, its success was rapid but short-lived. By 2005, many Chinese companies had established subsidiaries in countries including Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa.

“The issue is that AGOA did not have rules of origin that would have curbed transhipment of the Chinese textile commodities,” said Gitau who is an expert on the emerging Sino-Africa geo-politics and trade relations.

The result has been local African clothing and textile companies closing, unable to compete with Chinese firms’ aggressive export-oriented tradition, low production costs and technological superiority.

And while AGOA has been extended to 2015, Chinese clothing makers in sub-Saharan Africa will continue exporting more textiles to the US at the expense of African companies.

“In essence, in the last two decades, China has placed itself in a strategic position to reap benefits from sub-Saharan Africa, not only in the textile industry but in other sectors as well,” says Gitau.

New sales opportunities
And Chinese manufacturers are in no mood to pull back. With weakening demand in Europe and the US since the financial crisis, plus continuing disputes at the World Trade Organization (WTO) with key mature market trading partners, China’s clothing and textile industry wants to diversify its sales.

From January to August 2012, China Customs figures show textile and apparel exports to the European Union (EU) dropped 14.4% year-on-year to US$32.02bn, while they rose 12.2% to US$9.82bn to Africa.

“We have got lots of inquiries from clients in Africa recently. They are less demanding, and some of them are happy to accept our private brands,” says a director at a Shanghai clothing manufacturer who so far has been supplying the EU, US and Japanese markets.

“There are many economic communities in Africa, which allows us to enter other African countries easily once we are in one of the community countries. We would like to look into the African market,” she adds.

Other Chinese manufacturers are using Africa as a hassle-free, alternative way to access the US and EU markets.

“In Ethiopia, we rent a plant and hire local workers make clothing for clients in the US and EU,” says a business manager at a Shandong province-based textile firm, who stresses that the African Growth and Opportunity Act offers companies such as his legal opportunities to access the US market.

And Chinese companies continue to see Africa not only as a huge market for export, but also a possible place for massive investment.

For example, in August, China Garments, a Beijing-based former state-run manufacturer, announced it will invest about US$29.7m in Zimbabwe to form a joint venture with the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe. The JV is expected to be a major cotton supplier of China Garments.”