How Have the Apparel Trade Flows Reacted to the Section 301 Tariff Action against China?

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  • Apparel products are not subject to the Section 301 tariff yet. Neither the $34 billion product list (subject to the 25% additional tariff rate since July 6, 2018) nor the newly proposed $200 billion product list covers wearing apparel (HS Chapters 61 and 62). The current tariff rates will remain unchanged for now.
  • Nevertheless, the Section 301 tariff action has created huge market uncertainties for U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers. Uncertainty hurts business.
  • Seasonally adjusted data shows that between January-May 2018, the total U.S. apparel imports increased by 1.5 percent in volume and 2.5 percent in value year on year—largely due to the improved U.S. economy which creates more import demand. However, over the same period, the value of U.S. apparel imports from China decreased by 1.2 percent in volume and 2.5 percent in value year on year.

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  • After all, cost concern does NOT seem to be the most influential factor that drives companies to source less from China. The average unit price of U.S. apparel imports from China dropped from $2.5/SME in 2016, $2.38/SME in 2017 to $2.32/SME in the first five months of 2018.

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  • In response to the market uncertainty, US importers have already started to accelerate diversifying their sourcing base. Interesting enough, while China’s share in the U.S. apparel import market is declining, there is no single alternative to “Made in China.” Notably, the market shares of Vietnam, Bangladesh, NAFTA and CAFTA only marginally increased in 2018 compared with a year ago. Again, companies’ immediate strategy is to diversify sourcing.
  • In the short run, the volume of US textile and apparel imports from China is likely to go up since US importers are eager to complete their sourcing orders before the tariff hit. If the market uncertainty lasts, the real negative impact will be reflected in the trade data later this year or next year. Usually, companies place sourcing orders several months ahead of the season.
  • Last but not least, the Section 301 action is driven by politics. It is insufficient to just calculate the economic costs and benefits; the political costs should be considered as well.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), US Department of Commerce

by Sheng Lu

U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry Responds to Trump’s Tariff Announcement against China

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On June 15, 2018, the Trump Administration announced to impose a 25% punitive tariff on a list of Chinese goods based on the results of its Section 301 investigation, which targeted against China’s unfair trade practices related to the forced transfer of American technology and intellectual property. The additional duty will first apply to 818 lines of products on July 6, 2018, which cover approximately $34 billion worth of imports from China. Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said it would issue a final determination on the second set of 284 proposed tariff lines, which cover approximately $16 billion worth of imports from China shortly. The total 1,102 tariff lines targeted by USTR generally focuses on products from industrial sectors that contribute to or benefit from the “Made in China 2025” industrial policy, which include industries such as aerospace, information and communications technology, robotics, industrial machinery, new materials, and automobiles.

In response to the U.S. action, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) quickly announced its proposed countermeasures, including a 25% punitive tariff on approximately $34 billion worth of U.S. soybean, autos, and fruits effective July 6, 2018. China is also ready to impose the punitive tariff on another list of products, which cover approximately $16 billion worth of medical device, chemicals and energy imports from the United States.

The U.S. textile and apparel industry keeps a close watch on the U.S.-China trade dispute since as much as 36% of U.S. textile and apparel imports come from China. In an announcement released on June 16, 2018, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) called a victory that no textile and apparel products are subject to the punitive tariff proposed by USTR. The June 15 USTR list also removes the majority of the textile machinery initially on the retaliation product list back in April 2018. However, U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers remain deeply concerned about Trump’s tariff action and its potential negative economic impacts on the apparel sector.

In contrast, the U.S. textile industry, represented by the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) praised the Trump administration’s tariff announcement. NCTO also called on the Trump administration to include finished textile and apparel products on any future lists of imports from China to be made subject to Section 301 tariffs.  Not surprisingly, NCTO’s proposal is opposed strongly by AAFA and the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, representing U.S. fashion brands and apparel retailers. As argued by USFIA, the U.S. tariff rates on apparel and fashion products are already the highest among manufactured goods, reaching 32 percent for man-made fiber apparel and 67 percent for footwear. Any additional tariff would constitute a huge, regressive tax increase and have a negative impact on the American jobs.

Appendix: Timeline of U.S. Section 301 Investigation against China

June 15, 2018: The Trump Administration announced to impose a 25% punitive tariff on a list of Chinese goods based on the results of its section 301 investigation

June 4, 2018: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross concluded his two-day trade negotiation with China in Beijing. A White House statement said “the meetings focused on reducing the United States’ trade deficit by facilitating the supply of agricultural and energy products to meet China’s growing consumption needs, which will help support growth and employment in the United States. The United States officials conveyed President Donald J. Trump’s clear goal for achieving a fair trading relationship with China.” While the announcement didn’t mention the next round, it says that the delegation will “receive guidance on the path forward.”

May 29, 2018: President Trump suddenly announced that the United States will impose a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of goods imported from China containing industrially significant technology, including those related to the “Made in China 2025” program.  The final list of covered imports will be announced by June 15, 2018. The announcement also said that the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR) will continue WTO dispute settlement against China originally initiated in March to address China’s discriminatory technology licensing requirements. Additionally, the United States will implement specific investment restrictions and enhanced export controls for Chinese persons and entities related to the acquisition of industrially significant technology. The list of restrictions and controls will be announced by June 30, 2018.

May 19, 2018: A joint statement released by the White House said that the United States and China had led to an agreement for China to buy more goods and services, including “meaningful increases in U.S. agriculture and energy exports.” The statement also said that both sides attach importance to intellectual property protections, agreed to encourage two-way investment and to strive to create a fair, level playing field for competition, and agreed to engage at high levels on trade and investment issues. Additionally, the statement said that the United States would send a team to China to work out the details of the agreement. However, the statement did not contain a specific target for reducing the $375 billion trade deficits.

April 5, 2018: President Trump announced that he has instructed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to consider $100 billion additional retaliatory tariffs on China, in response to China’s own retaliation against the Section 301 tariffs announced in late March. In a statement released the next day, USTR confirms the proposed new measures. USTR also says that any additional tariffs proposed will be subject to a similar public comment process as the proposed tariffs announced on April 3, 2018. No tariffs will go into effect until the respective process is complete. 

April 3, 2018: USTR released the proposed list of Chinese products to be subject to the retaliatory tariff under the Section 301 action. The proposed list covers approximately 1,300 separate tariff lines and will undergo further review in a public notice and comment process, including a hearing (scheduled at around May 15, 2018). The USTR statement says it will make a final decision on whether to implement the proposed tariff action after the whole process. 

March 26, 2018: USTR filed a WTO case against China’s discriminatory technology licensing requirements (DS542). The US claimed that China’s measures appear to be inconsistent with Articles 3, 28.1(a) and (b) and 28.2 of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). As of April 8, 2018, the European Union, Japan, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia have requested to join the dispute as third parties. According to the WTO rule, China shall enter into consultation with the US no later than April 26, 2018. If the dispute is not resolved by May 25, 2018 (i.e., 60 days after the request for consultation), the United States may request a WTO panel. As of June 17, 2018, the case is still in consultations.

March 22, 2018: President Trump announced his decisions on the actions the Administration will take in response to China’s unfair trade practices covered in the USTR Section 301 investigation of China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer initiated the investigation in August 2017 at the direction of President Trump. In the Memorandum he signed, President Trump directed the US Trade Representative to level tariffs on about $50 billion worth of Chinese imports. 

January 2018: the U.S. Trade Representative Office submitted its annual report on China’s WTO Compliance to U.S. Congress. The report says that “It seems clear that the United States erred in supporting China’s entry into the WTO on terms that have proven to be ineffective in securing China’s embrace of an open, market-orientated trade regime.”

August 14, 2017: President Trump issued a memorandum directing the USTR to determine if China’s policies regarding IPR theft and forced technology requirements “may be harming American intellectual property rights, innovation, or technology development,” and thus warrant USTR action under Section 301of the 1974 Trade Act.

Related reading: The Section 301 Investigation against China Divides the U.S. Textile Industry and U.S. Fashion Brands and Retailers

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

Tariff Remains a Critical Trade Barrier for the Textile and Apparel Sector (Updated December 2017)

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According to latest statistics from the World Trade Organization (WTO), in 2016, the average applied tariff rate remained at 10.5% for textiles and 17.5% for apparel worldwide. Compared with the average tariff rate for all sectors, the tariff rate for textile and apparel is 1.4 percentage points and 8.4 percentage points higher respectively. The result suggests that while tariff may no longer be a critical trade barrier for some sectors, it still significantly matters for the textile and apparel industry.

Least developed countries (LDC) overall set a higher tariff rate for textiles and apparel than other more advanced economies. For many poorest countries in the world, tariff remains the single largest source of tax revenue for the local government. However, it is also true that should these LDCs lower their tariff rate for textile inputs such as yarns and fabrics, it may help apparel manufacturers in these countries lower production cost and improve the price competitiveness of their finished apparel products in the world marketplace.

At the country level, countries with the highest tariff rate for textiles include Bahamas (37.1%), Ethiopia (28.0%), Uzbekistan (24.5%), Algeria (24.0%), Argentina (23.3%), and Brazil (23.3%). Whereas countries with the highest tariff rate for apparel include South Africa (41.0%), Namibia (41.0%), Swaziland (41.0%), Botswana (41.0%), Lesotho (41.0%), Bolivia (40.0%), Egypt (38.4%), Argentina (35.0%), Ethiopia (35.0%) and Brazil (35.0%).

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Data also shows that the import tariff rates of the US, EU(28) and Japan, the top three largest textile and apparel importers in the world, stay unchanged over the past three years.

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Additionally, there seems to be a positive relationship between a country’s import tariff rate for new clothing (HS 61 & 62) and used clothing (HS 6309). Of the total 180 countries covered by the International Trade Center (ITC) database, about 62.7% set an equal or higher tariff rate for new clothing than used clothing. Some African nations place a particularly high tariff rate for used clothing, including Zimbabwe (167%), South Africa (149%), Rwanda (117%), Namibia (80%), Tanzania (56%), and Uganda (41%).

Detailed tariff rates in Excel can be downloaded from HERE

CRS Releases Report on NAFTA Renegotiation and US Textile Manufacturing

23120124_10155817882672812_4644791366056415981_oKey findings:

U.S. textile and apparel trade with NAFTA members

  • The United States maintains a bilateral trade surplus in yarns and fabrics ($4.1 billion in 2016) as well as made-up textiles ($720 million in 2016) with NAFTA members.
  • Regarding apparel, the United States had a trade surplus with Canada of $1.4 billion and a trade deficit with Mexico of $2.7 billion in 2016.

Impact of NAFTA on employment and production in the U.S. textile and apparel industry

  • The effects of NAFTA are NOT straightforward, and the drop in U.S. domestic textile and apparel production and jobs cannot be blamed solely on NAFTA.
  • The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) concluded that imports of textiles had a tiny effect on U.S. textile industry employment (a 0.4% decline) from 1998 to 2014, which covers most of the period since NAFTA’s enactment. However, the collapse of the U.S. domestic apparel industry and changing clothing tastes may have had a more significant impact on domestic textile production.
  • There is little evidence that NAFTA was the decisive factor for the loss of jobs in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector, given that the major growth in apparel manufacturing for the U.S. market has occurred in Asian countries that receive no preferences under NAFTA.

Impact of the Tariff Preference Level (TPL) in NAFTA

  • In nearly every year since 2010, Mexico has come close to exporting the maximum allowable amount of cotton and man-made fiber apparel with duty-free foreign content. Canada’s TPL fill rates are typically highest for cotton and man-made fiber fabric and made-up products but are not usually fully filled.
  • It is not clear that eliminating the TPL program would result in a substantial return of textile production or jobs to the United States; if it were to raise the cost of Mexican apparel production, it could instead result in imports from other countries displacing imports from Mexico.
  • Other than U.S. fashion brands and retailers, Mexico and Canada reportedly oppose the elimination of the NAFTA TPL program too.

 Possible Effects of Potential NAFTA Modification

  • Mexico’s focus on basic apparel items suggests that S. importers could quickly source from elsewhere if duty savings under NAFTA are eliminated. However, even now, some U.S. fashion companies say the duty savings are not worth the time and resources required to comply with the NAFTA rules of origin and documentation requirements. In 2016, roughly 16% of qualifying textile and apparel imports from NAFTA failed to take advantage of the duty-free benefits and instead paid applicable tariffs.
  • Whatever the outcome of the NAFTA renegotiation, in the medium and long run, the profitability of the North American textile and apparel industry will likely depend less on NAFTA preferences such as yarn forward and more on the capacity of producers in the region to innovate to remain globally competitive.
  • One change in NAFTA proposed by the United States would require motor vehicles to have 85% North American content and 50% U.S. content to qualify for tariff-free treatment. If auto manufacturers were to import more passenger cars from outside the NAFTA region and pay the 2.5% U.S. import duty rather than complying with stricter domestic content requirements, automotive demand for U.S.-made technical textiles could be adversely affected.
  • If the TPP-11 countries strike a trade deal, one possible effect is that Canada and Mexico may import more textile and apparel products from other TPP countries, including Vietnam. This could ultimately be a disadvantage for U.S.-based producers. How the inclusion of Canada and Mexico in a fresh TPP-11 arrangement would affect their participation in NAFTA is unknown.

The full report can be downloaded from HERE

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 export to mexico

US export to canada

US import from Mexico

US import from Canada

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?

Tariff Phaseout Schedule for Apparel in the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement

The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement was concluded in December 2015. The agreement is EU’s second free trade agreement with a Southeast Asian country (after Singapore) and is the most ambitious and comprehensive FTA that the EU has ever concluded with a middle-income developing country.

Statistics from the Eurostat show that Vietnam was EU’s sixth largest extra-region apparel supplier in 2015 (after China, Bangladesh, Turkey, India and Cambodia), accounting for 3.5% of imports in value (or €28.0 billion) and 2.8% in volume.

The EU-Vietnam free trade agreement is expected to substantially expand Vietnam’s textile and apparel exports to the EU market. On the one hand, EU’s import duties on textile and apparel from Vietnam will be eliminated through a seven-year phaseout period once the agreement comes into force (see below). On the other hand, a garment made in Vietnam which contains fabrics made in South Korea or other ASEAN countries with which the EU has a free trade agreement in force will still be qualified for duty-free treatment under the agreement.

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Complied based on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement: Agreed text as of January 2016.

The legal review of the negotiated text is currently on-going and will be followed by translation into the EU’s official languages and Vietnamese. The EU Commission will then present a proposal to the Council of Ministers for approval of the agreement and ratification by the European Parliament. The agreement is expected to come into force in 2018.