Japan’s Apparel Sourcing Patterns

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(The full article is available HERE)

Key findings:

First, the total value of Japan’s apparel imports has been growing steadily in line with consumption patterns. Between 2010 and 2018, the value of Japan’s apparel imports enjoyed a 2.7% compound annual growth rate, which was lower than the US (3.4%), but higher than the EU (1.9%) and the world average (1.3%) over the same period.

Second, while China remains the top supplier, Japanese fashion brands and retailers are also diversifying their sourcing bases. Similar to their counterparts in the US and EU, Japanese fashion brands and retailers are actively seeking alternatives. Imports from Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia have been growing particularly fast, even though their production capacity and market shares are still far behind China.

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Third, Japanese fashion companies are increasingly sourcing from Asia. As of 2018, only 7.5% of Japan’s apparel imports came from non-Asian countries (mostly western EU countries), a notable drop from 11.4% back in 2000. A good proportion of Japan’s apparel imports from Asia actually contain fibers and yarns originally made in Japan. For example, it is not difficult to find clothing labeled ‘Made in China’ or ‘Made in Vietnam’ that also includes phrases such as ‘Using soft, slow-spun Japanese fabric’ and ‘With Japanese yarns’ in the detailed product description.

Fourth, overall, Japan sets a lower tariff barrier for apparel than other leading import countries. As of September 2019, there were around 15 FTAs and TPAs in force in Japan, whose members include several 1st tier apparel supplying countries in Asia, such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Cambodia. Most of these trade programs adopt the so-called “fabric-forward” rules of origin (also known as “double-transformation” rules of origin). Additionally, Japan is actively engaged in negotiations on a trilateral free trade agreement with China and South Korea, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which involves Japan, South Korea, China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries. Once reached and implemented, these trade agreements will provide new exciting duty-saving sourcing opportunities, including from China, the top apparel exporter in the world.

U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement (Updated: September 2019)

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On 16 September 2019, the Trump administration notified U.S. Congress of its intent to enter into a trade agreement on “tariff barriers” with Japan as well as an “executive agreement” on digital trade. According to the announcement, the Trump administration plans to utilize Section 103(a) of the 2015 Trade Promotion Authority law, which allows the president to modify tariffs WITHOUT congressional approval. While details of the tariff agreement are not yet available, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in August said the deal with Japan would focus on beef, pork, wheat, dairy products, wine, and ethanol, as well as on industrial goods.

The 16 September notification also says the Trump administration will “further negotiations with Japan to achieve a comprehensive trade agreement that results in more fair and reciprocal trade between the United States and Japan.” Such a more comprehensive trade agreement, however, will require congressional approval.

On December 21, 2018, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released negotiating objectives of the proposed U.S.-Japan Free Trade Agreement (USJTA). Overall, USJTA aims to address both tariff and non-tariff barriers to achieve fairer and more balanced trade between the two countries. Regarding the textiles and apparel sector, USTR says it will “secure duty-free access 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” during the negotiation. USJTA also will “establish origin procedures for the certification and verification of rules of origin that promote strong enforcement, including with respect to textiles.”

Should the newly announced U.S.-Japan trade deal remove the tariffs for textiles and apparel traded between the two countries, the overall economic impact on related trade flows could be modest. Data from the UNComtrade shows that in 2018 U.S. imported $656 million textiles (SITC 26 and 65) and $88 million apparel (SITC 84) from Japan, accounting for 2.1% and 0.1% of total U.S. textile and apparel imports respectively. Meanwhile, in 2018 Japan imported around $353 million textiles and $121 million apparel from the U.S., accounting for 3.7% and 0.4% of Japan’s total textile and apparel imports that year respectively.

In comparison, over 70% of U.S. textile and apparel exports went to the Western-Hemisphere and U.S. imported textiles and apparel mostly from NAFTA & CAFTA-DR members and other Asian countries (such as China and Vietnam). Likewise, Japan also has a much closer trade tie with other Asian countries because of the regional textile and apparel trade patterns (or commonly known as “factory Asia”).

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On the other hand, the elimination of tariffs and potentially non-tariff barriers under the U.S.-Japan trade deal could expand the bilateral trade flows for technical textiles. Notably, the top categories of U.S. textile and apparel exports to Japan in 2018 were mostly technical textiles such as specialty and industrial fabrics, filament yarns, and non-woven textiles. Likewise, the top categories of Japan’s textile and apparel exports to the U.S. in 2018 also include special-purpose fabric, non-woven fabric, and synthetic filament fabrics.

Additionally, the textiles and apparel-specific rules of origin (RoO) is likely to remain a heated debate in the US-Japan trade negotiation. To protect the interests of the U.S. textile industry and the Western-Hemisphere regional textile and apparel supply chain, most free trade agreements enacted in the United States adopt the so-called “yarn-forward” RoO. Even though the U.S.-Japan trade agreement may not be a too big deal economically, the U.S. textile industry is unlikely to give up the RoO fight. However, most free trade agreements enacted in Japan adopt more liberal fabric-forward rules of origin (or commonly called “double transformation”). As textile and apparel production in Japan is increasingly integrated with other Asian countries, the strict “yarn-forward” RoO could prevent Japanese textile and apparel exporters from enjoying the preferential duty benefits under the U.S.-Japan trade agreement fully.

Japan’s Textile Exports to Vietnam Keep Growing Fast

According to a recent report released by the Textile Outlook International, Japan’s textile and apparel (T&A) exports increased by 9.6% to a five-year high in 2013 (¥763,307 million or $8,571 million USD), added by a sharp depreciation in the value of the yen (Note: Yen or “¥” is Japan’s currency) against US dollar. Specifically, Japan’s textile exports increased by 9.8%, from ¥729,761 million in 2012 to ¥801,450 million in 2013. Japan’s apparel exports rose by 3.7%, from ¥33,546 million in 2012 to ¥34,792 million in 2013. Textiles account for a lion’s share of Japan’s total T&A exports– 95.8% in 2013 and 95.6% in 2012 in terms of value.

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Statistics also show that Vietnam not only is Japan’s second largest T&A export market, but also is one of the fastest growing export markets for Japan. In 2013, 9.1% of Japan’s T&A exports went to Vietnam (mostly were textiles), increased from 8.5% in 2012. In terms of absolute value, Japans’ T&A exports to Vietnam has also kept growing fast in recent years: 17.1% increase in 2013, 9.7% in 2012 and 27.3% in 2011, much higher than the growth rate of Japan’s overall T&A exports over the same period. Additionally, about 26% of Japan’s textile exports to Vietnam in 2013 were man-made fiber fabrics (SITC 653), followed by special yarns and fabrics (SITC 657) which accounted for 21% in terms of value. This product structure well matches with Japan’s overall textile exports to the world.

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On the other hand, Japans’ T&A exports to the US also grew by 8.1% in 2013, following a 3.2% rise in 2012. Fastest growing category of Japan’s T&A exports to the US in 2013 include blue denim fabric, non-textured filament yarn, wool knitted shirts and blouses and miscellaneous manufactured products made from man-made fibers.

However, the solid performance of Japan’s T&A exports in 2013 “failed to reinvigorate domestic production”. According to the report, Japan’s total T&A exports declined by 2.0% from 2012 to 2013, following a 2.3% fall a year earlier. However, production of miscellaneous textile products in Japan went up 0.6% in 2013.

Questions for discussion:

  • Will Japan further strengthen its ties with Vietnam in T&A production and trade because of TPP?
  • Should the US textile industry care about Japan in the TPP?

Welcome for any comments and suggestions.

Related reading
Lu, S. (2014). Does Japan’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership an opportunity or a threat to the U.S. textile industry: A quantitative analysis. Journal of the Textile Institute. (ahead of print version)