Is the Western Hemisphere Textile and Apparel Supply Chain in Trouble?

Within the Western-Hemisphere (WH) textile and apparel supply chain, 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 or Canada.

WH countries still form a close supply chain partnership in textile and apparel production. For example, close to 70% of US textile exports went to WH members in 2020, a pattern that has stayed stable over the past decades (OTEXA, 2021). Meanwhile, the United States serves as the single largest export market for most apparel exporting countries in the WH For example, in 2019, close to 89% of apparel exports from CAFTA-DR and USMCA (NAFTA) members went to the US.

However, the WH textile and apparel supply chain is not without significant challenges. For example, CAFTA-DR and Mexico are increasingly using textiles inputs from outside the WH region, which weakens the US role as a dominant textile supplier. Notably, most of the market shares lost by US textile suppliers are fulfilled by Asian countries, including China and other members of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). Theoretically, using cheaper textile inputs from Asia may help apparel producing countries in the WH improve the price competitiveness of their finished garments and diversify their export markets beyond the US.

Meanwhile, despite the apparent popularity of “near-sourcing”, no evidence suggests that US fashion brands and retailers are sourcing more from WH countries, including CAFTA-DR and USMCA (NAFTA) members. Neither the US-China trade war nor COVID-19 seems to have shifted the trends. Instead, close to 75%-80% of US apparel imports still come from Asian countries (OTEXA, 2021). Studies further show that a vast majority of US apparel imports from WH concentrate on a limited category of products, such as tops and bottoms, which is far from sufficient to meet retailers’ sourcing needs.

On the other hand, technical textiles and industrial textiles account for a growing share in the total US textile exports, and Asia is a particularly fast-growing market. However, there is few US free trade agreement with Asian countries, making it a disadvantage to promote “Made in the USA” products in these markets. It is debatable what should be the priority for the US textile and apparel trade policy: to continue to protect the exports of yarn and fabrics to the WH or open new export markets for technical and industrial textiles outside the WH region?

by Sheng Lu

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EU Textile and Apparel Industry Sees Commercial Opportunities in Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)

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(picture source: Euratex)

According to the European Apparel and Textile Federation (Euratex), Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), if reached and implemented, will bring substantial commercial benefits to the EU textile and apparel (T&A) industry. Euratex sees T-TIP has the great potential to help EU T&A expand exports to the U.S. market, particularly in two areas:

One is high-end apparel. The United States is EU’s third largest apparel export market only after Switzerland and Russia. In 2014, apparel exports from EU(28) to the United States exceed €2.5 billion and most products were much higher priced than those exported from elsewhere in the world. Euratex expects that when the high tariff facing EU apparel products in the U.S. market is removed—such as 28% tariff rate for women’s jacket, and customs red tape is cut, many small and medium (SME) sized EU T&A companies will be able to gain more access to the 300 million people U.S. apparel market.

The other is technical textiles: Euratex highlighted that “technical textiles, like high functionality fabrics used for firefighters’ uniforms or airbags, represent half of our textiles exports to the US. European home textiles are of great success in the US: more than €92million of bedlinen were sold in 2014. Nonwoven textile products for hygiene and medical purposes (cleansing tissues, surgical bedsheets, gauze, bandages, etc.) are a growing part of our exports to the U.S.. High-tech textiles products cover a wide range of applications – transport, construction, agriculture, defense, personal protection and much more.”

Moreover, it seems that the EU technical textile industry is very interested in getting access to the U.S. market currently protected by the Berry Amendment. Euratex sees “Opening business opportunities in public sector for technical textiles is a must in T-TIP. “Europe is a recognized leader in production of smart technical textiles due to advanced manufacturing technologies and constant innovation of materials and their application. The production of technical textiles in Europe significantly increased over the past ten years. With TTIP, the US public services will be able to benefit from the innovative products manufactured in Europe.” Euratex says.

Background: the state of EU-US textile and apparel trade

EU-US T&A trade

2015 Top Markets Report for Technical Textiles and Apparel Released

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The U.S. Department of Commerce recently released its first-ever market report for technical textile and apparel, covering product categories including: non-wovens, specialty and industrial fabrics, medical textiles and protective apparel. According to the report:

  • The U.S. exports of technical textiles totaled $8.5 billion or 46% of U.S. textile mill product exports in 2014.
  • By size, the top 10 export markets for U.S. technical textiles from 2015 to 2016 include: Mexico, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil and Honduras.
  • North America is the largest regional consumer of technical textiles due to the presence of the majority of end-use industries. Europe and Asia Pacific follow North America in terms of current consumption; however, development in emerging markets including India, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan is expected to increase overall technical textile demand. Among the best prospect in the emerging markets for U.S. companies are Vietnam, India, Taiwan and Brazil.
  • Major challenges facing U.S. technical textile exports include: 1) trade protection such as high tariffs and non-tariff barriers, such as import license requirements; 2) foreign competition and continual investment in research and development in many developing countries; and 3) lack of transparency by foreign customs agencies which could slow the flow of trade and lead to processing delays.

Eight country studies are provided by the report, including: Brazil, Canada, China, India, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The full report can be downloaded from HERE.