WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2018

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According to the World Trade Statistical Review 2019 newly released by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the current dollar value of world textiles (SITC 65) and apparel (SITC 84) exports totaled $315 billion and $505 billion in 2018 respectively, increased by 6.4% and 11.1% from a year earlier. This has been the fastest growth of world textile and apparel trade since 2012. Specifically: 

I. Textile export

China, European Union (EU28), and India remained the world’s top three exporters of textiles in 2018. Altogether, these top three accounted for 66.9% of world textile exports in 2018, a new record high since 2011. Notably, China and EU (28) also enjoyed a faster-than-world-average export growth in 2018, up 7.9% and 6.9% respectively. The United States remained the world’s fourth top textile exporter in 2018, accounting for 4.4% of the shares, down slightly from 4.6% in 2017.

II. Apparel export

China, the European Union (EU28), Bangladesh, and Vietnam unshakably remained the world’s top four largest exporters in 2018. Altogether, these top four accounted for as much as 72.3% of world market shares in 2018, which, however, was lower than 75.8% in 2017 and 74.3% in 2016—primarily due to China’s declining market shares. Notably, even though apparel exports from Vietnam (up 13.4%) and Bangladesh (up 11.1%) enjoyed a fast growth in absolute terms in 2018, their gains in market shares were quite limited (up 0.3 percentage point from 5.9% to 6.2% for Vietnam and up 0.1 percentage point from 6.4% to 6.5% for Bangladesh). This result once again suggests that due to capacity limits, no single country has emerged to become the “Next China.” Instead, China’s lost market shares in apparel exports were fulfilled by a group of countries, a phenomenon which can be linked with fashion brands and retailers’ sourcing diversification strategy.

III. Textile import

The European Union (EU28), the United States, and China were the top three largest importers of textiles in 2018, accounting for 37.5% of the world’s total textile imports that year. Although the market shares of the top three in 2018 were close to 37.7% a year earlier, it nevertheless was much lower than over 50% back in the 2000s. The increasing diversification of textile import market is associated with the shifting pattern of world apparel manufacturing and export closely.

IV. Apparel import

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 world’s top three importers of apparel in 2018. Altogether, these top three absorbed 61.5% of world apparel in 2018, which, however, was lower than 62.3% in 2017 and a significant drop from 84% back in 2005. Behind the result, it is not the case that consumers in the EU, U.S., and Japan are importing less clothing. Instead, several emerging economies (such as China) are becoming fast-growing apparel consumption markets and starting to import more. As consumers’ purchasing power in these emerging economies continues to improve, we could expect a more diversified world apparel import market in the years ahead.

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Additional reading: Latest trends in world textile and apparel trade

Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: February 2018)

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The value of U.S. textile imports reached $25,706 million in 2017, up 7.2 percent from 2016 and 77.8 percent from 2000. The value of U.S. apparel imports reached $80,287 million in 2017, slightly down 0.5 percent from a year earlier and up 40.3 percent from 2000.  It is estimated that the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports could change between -2.2% and 7.6% and between -1.2% and 5.3% respectively in 2018.

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Because the United States is no longer a major apparel manufacturer but one of the largest apparel consumption markets in the world, apparel products accounted for 75.7 percent of total U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2017, followed by made-up textiles (17.4 percent), fabrics (5.7 percent) and yarns (1.2percent). This structure has remained stable over the past decade.

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The U.S. imported apparel from as many as 150 countries in 2017. Meanwhile, the Herfindahl index declined from 0.17 in 2010 to 0.15 in 2017, suggesting that overall the U.S. apparel import market is becoming less concentrated. This result is consistent with some recent studies, which show that U.S. fashion brands and retailers continue to diversify their sourcing bases gradually. Specifically, all top apparel suppliers to the United States in 2017 (by value) were developing countries and most of them are located in Asia, including China (33.7 percent), Vietnam (14.4 percent), Bangladesh (6.3 percent), Indonesia (5.7 percent), India (4.6 percent) and Mexico (4.5 percent).

On the other hand, despite the uncertain prospect of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada enjoyed a robust growth of 5.3 percent and 7.7 percent respectively in 2017 from a year earlier. The result confirms the increasing importance of “speed to market” in U.S. fashion apparel companies’ sourcing decisions and the growing popularity of “near-sourcing.”

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U.S. textile and apparel imports are also becoming even cheaper. For example, U.S. apparel imports in 2017 on average was only 81.1 percent of the price in 1990 and the price of imported fabrics cut nearly by half over the same period.

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Additionally, U.S. apparel imports overall mirror the pattern of apparel retail sales in the U.S. market. This pattern reflects the fact that the performance of the U.S. economy is the leading factor shaping the size of demand for imported apparel. Notably, between 2010 and 2017, the value of U.S. apparel imports grew relatively faster than the value of U.S. apparel retail sales (3.2 percent vs 3.1 percent annually on average). The result suggests that a growing share of apparel products consumed in the United States now come from overseas.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), U.S. Department of Commerce

By Sheng Lu

Additional reading: Lu, S. (2018). Four key patterns in U.S. apparel imports. Just-Style

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

Are Textile and Apparel “Made in China” Losing Competitiveness in the U.S. Market?

The updated version is available HERE

The following analysis is from the latest Just-Style Op-ed Is China Losing Its Edge as a US Apparel Supplier.

A fact-checking review of trade statistics in 2016 of a total 167 categories of T&A products categorized by the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) suggests that textile and apparel (T&A) “Made in China” have no near competitors in the U.S. import market. Specifically, in 2016:

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  • Of the total 11 categories of yarn, China was the top supplier for 2 categories (or 18%);
  • Of the total 34 categories of fabric, China was the top supplier for 25 categories (or 74%);
  • Of the total 106 categories of apparel, China was the top supplier for 88 categories (or 83%);
  • Of the total 16 categories of made-up textiles, China was the top supplier for 12 categories (or 68%);

In comparison, for those Asian T&A suppliers regarded as China’s top competitors:

  • Vietnam was the top supplier for only 5 categories of apparel (less than 5% of the total);
  • Bangladesh was the top supplier for only 2 categories of apparel (less than 2% of the total)
  • India was the top supplier for 2 categories of fabric (9% of the total), one category of apparel (1% of the total) and 5 categories of made-up textiles (41.7% of the total)

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Notably, China not only was the top supplier for many T&A products but also held a lion’s market shares. For example, in 2016:

  • For the 34 categories of fabric that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 41%, 23 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories
  • For the 88 categories of apparel that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 53%, 38 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.
  • For the 16 categories of made-up textiles that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 57%, 40 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.

It is also interesting to see that despite the reported rising labor cost, T&A “Made in China” are NOT becoming more expensive. On the contrary, the unit price of U.S. T&A imports from China in 2016 was 6.8% lower than a year earlier, whereas over the same period the unit price for U.S. T&A imports from rest of the world only declined by 2.9%.

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Furthermore, T&A “Made in China” are demonstrating even bigger price competitiveness compared with other suppliers to the U.S. market. For example, in 2016, the unit price of “Made China” was only 78% of the price of “Made in Vietnam” (in 2012 was 89%), 88% of “Made in Bangladesh” (in 2012 was 100%), 86% of “Made in Mexico” (in 2012 was 103%) and 72% of “Made in India” (in 2012 was 81%).

Are the results surprising? How to explain China’s demonstrated price competitiveness despite its reported rising labor cost? What’s your outlook for the future of China as a sourcing destination for U.S. fashion brands and retailers? Please feel free to share your views.

Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: September 2016)

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U.S. textile and apparel imports enjoy steady growth from 2000 to 2015. Specifically, the value of U.S. textile imports reached $26,763 million in 2015, up 4.2 percent from 2014 and 85.1 percent from 2000. The value of U.S. apparel imports reached $85,165 million in 2015, up 4.1 percent from 2014 and 48.8 percent from 2000.  It is forecasted that the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports could reach $27,355 million (up 2.2 percent) and $85,719 million (up 0.7 percent) respectively in 2016.

product structure

Because the United States is no longer a major apparel manufacturer but one of the largest apparel consumption markets in the world, apparel products accounted for 76.1 percent of total U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2015, followed by made-up textiles (16.9 percent), fabrics (5.8 percent) and yarns (1.3 percent).

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In terms of source of products, U.S. imported apparel from as many as 150 countries in 2015. However, Herfindahl index reached 0.15 for knitted apparel (HS chapter 61) and 0.18 for woven apparel (HS chapter 62) in 2015, suggesting this is a market with a high concentration of supplying countries. Specifically, all top apparel suppliers to the United States in 2015 (by value) are developing countries and most of them are located in Asia, including China (35.9 percent), Vietnam (12.4 percent), Bangladesh (6.3 percent), Indonesia (5.8 percent), India (4.3 percent) and Mexico (4.2 percent).

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U.S. textile and apparel imports are also becoming even cheaper. For example, U.S. apparel imports in 2015 on average was only 85.7 percent of the price in 1990 and the price of imported fabrics cut almost by half over the same period.

fast growing categories

From 2013 to 2015, the fastest growing textile and apparel import categories unusually include several fabric products, such as blue denim (OTEXA code 225, up 74.8%), Cheesecloths (OTEXA code 226, up 74.3%) and woven fabrics (OTEXA code 611, up 49.3%).  It is likely that the growing business of apparel “Made in USA” has led to an increased demand for imported fabrics.  

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Additionally, U.S. apparel imports overall mirror the pattern of apparel retail sales in the U.S. market. This reflects the fact that the performance of the U.S. economy is the leading factor shaping the size of demand for imported apparel. It is also interesting to note that the value of U.S. apparel imports grew at a faster rate than the value of U.S. apparel retail sales in 2015 (4.1 percent v.s. 1.7 percent), suggesting import penetration ratio (i.e. the percentage of apparel consumed in the United States that is supplied by imports) continues to rise.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), U.S. Department of Commerce

by Sheng Lu

Vietnam’s Apparel Exports Slow in First Half of 2016

Growth rate of Vietnam

According to Thanh Nien News, Vietnam’s textile and apparel (T&A) exports only increased 5.1 percent to $10.7 billion in the first half of 2016. This was the lowest growth rate since 2010. Data from the General Statistics Office of Vietnam shows that Vietnam’s T&A exports totaled $22.63 million in 2015, up 8.2 percent from a year earlier.

In the U.S. market, apparel imports from Vietnam also see a much slower growth in the first five months of 2016: 4.1% by value (compared with 13.1% on average between 2010 and 2015) and 5.0% by quantity (compared with 11.8% on average between 2010 and 2015).

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The new trade data echos the findings in the latest 2016 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study. Although Vietnam remains one of the top sourcing destinations, respondents seem to be more conservative about Vietnam’s growth potential in the next two years. Only 4 percent of respondents expect a strong increase of sourcing value or volume from the country, which is a substantial drop from 21.4 percent in the 2015 study.