What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

I encourage everyone to watch the two short videos above, which provide an excellent wrap-up for FASH455 and remind us of the meaning and significance of our course. BTW, the names of several experts featured in the video should sound familiar to you, such as David Spooner (former U.S. Chief Textile Negotiator and Assistant Secretary of Commerce), Julia Hughes (president of the US Fashion Industry Association, USFIA) and Auggie Tantillo (former president of the National Council of TextileOrganizations, NCTO).

First of all, I hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A) trade & sourcing from FASH455. As you may recall from the video, in FASH455, we’ve examined the phenomenon of globalization and its profound social, economic and political implications. We also discussed various trade theories and the general evolution pattern of a country’s T&A industry and its close relationship with that country’s overall industrialization process. We further explored three primary T&A supply chains in the world (namely the Western-Hemisphere supply chain, the flying geese model in Asia, and the phenomenon of intra-region T&A trade in Europe). Last but not least, we looked at unique and critical trade policies that matter significantly to the T&A sector (e.g., U.S.-China tariff war and the yarn-forward rules of origin) as well as the complicated factors behind the making of these trade policies. Whether your dream job is to be a fashion designer, buyer, merchandiser, sourcing specialist, or marketing analyst, understanding how trade and sourcing work will be highly relevant and beneficial to your future career given the global nature of today’s fashion industry.

Second, I hope FASH455 helps students shape a big-picture vision of the T&A industry in the 21st-century world economy and provides students a fresh new way of looking at the world. Throughout the semester, we’ve examined many critical, timely, and pressing global agendas that are highly relevant to the T&A industry, from the impact of COVID-19 on apparel sourcing and trade, apparel companies’ social responsibility practices, the debate on the textile and apparel provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA or NAFTA2.0)  to the controversy of used clothing trade. It is critical to keep in mind that we wear more than clothes: We also wear the global economy, international business, public policy, and trade politics that make affordable, fashionable, and safe clothes possible and available for hardworking families. This is also the message from many of our distinguished guest speakers this semester, and I do hope you find these special learning events enlightening and inspiring.

Likewise, I hope FASH455 can put students into thinking about why “fashion” matters. A popular misconception is that “fashion and apparel” is just about “sewing,” “fashion magazine,” “shopping” and “Project Runway.” In fact, as one of the largest and most economically influential sectors in the world today, T&A industry plays a critical and unique role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. As we mentioned in the class, over 120 million people remain directly employed in the T&A industry globally, and a good proportion of them are females living in poor rural areas. For most developing countries, T&A typically accounts for 70%–90% of their total merchandise exports and provides one of the very few opportunities for these countries to participate in globalization. The spread of COVID-19, in particular, reveals the enormous social and economic impacts of the apparel sector and many problems that need our continuous efforts to make an improvement. 

Last but not least, I hope from taking FASH455, students will take away meaningful questions that can inspire their future study and even life’s pursuit. For example:

  • How has COVID-19 fundamentally and permanently changed the pattern of apparel sourcing and trade?
  • How to make the growth of the global textile and apparel trade more inclusive and equal?
  • How to make sure tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How will automation, AI and digital technologies change the future landscape of apparel sourcing, trade, and job opportunities?
  • How to use trade policy as a tool to solve tough global issues such as labor practices and climate change?
  • Is inequality a problem caused by global trade? If global trade is the problem, what can be the alternative?

Unfortunately, these questions have no good answers yet. However, they are waiting for you, the young professional and the new generation of leaders, to write the history, based on your knowledge, wisdom, responsibility, courage, and creativity!

So what do you take away from FASH455? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Dr. Sheng Lu

WTO Reports World Textiles and Apparel Trade in 2019

According to the World Trade Statistical Review 2020 newly released by the World Trade Organization (WTO):

First, the volume of world textiles and apparel trade reduced in 2019 due to weakened demand and the negative impacts of trade tensions. According to the WTO, the value of the world textiles (SITC 65) and apparel (SITC 84) exports totaled $305bn and $492bn in 2019, respectively, decreased by 2.4% and 0.4% from a year ago. The world merchandise trade also fell by nearly 3% measured by value and 0.1% measured by volume 2018-2019, in contrast with a positive 2.8% growth 2017-2018. Put these numbers in context, the year 2019 was the first time that world merchandise trade fell since the 2008 global financial crisis, and the decline happened even before the pandemic. As noted by the WTO, the economic slowdown and the escalating trade tensions, particularly the tariff war between the United States and China, were among the major contributing factors for the contraction of trade flows. 

Second, the pattern of world textile exports overall stays stable in 2019; Meanwhile, China and Vietnam continue to gain momentum. China, European Union (EU28), and India remained the world’s top three exporters of textiles in 2019. Altogether, these top three accounted for 66.9% of the value of world textile exports in 2019, almost no change from two years ago. Notably, despite the headwinds, China and Vietnam stilled enjoy the positive growth of their textile exports in 2019, up 0.9%, and 8.3%, respectively. In particular, Vietnam exceeded Taiwan and ranked the world’s seventh-largest textile exporter in 2019 ($8.8bn of exports, up 8.3% from a year earlier), the first time in history. The change also reflects Vietnam’s efforts to continuously upgrade its textile and apparel industry and strengthen the local textile production capacity are paying off.

Third, the pattern of world apparel exports reflects fashion companies’ shifting strategies to reduce sourcing from China. China, the European Union (EU28), Bangladesh, and Vietnam unshakably remained the world’s top four exporters of apparel in 2019. Altogether, these top four accounted for as much as 71.4% of world market shares in 2019, which, however, was lower than 74% from 2016 to 2018—primarily due to China’s reduced market shares.

China is exporting less apparel and more textiles to the world. Notably, China’s market shares in world apparel exports fell from its peak of 38.8% in 2014 to a record low of 30.8% in 2019 (was 31.3% in 2018). Meanwhile, China accounted for 39.2% of world textile exports in 2019, which was a new record high. It is important to recognize that China is playing an increasingly critical role as a textile supplier for many apparel-exporting countries in Asia.

On the other hand, even though apparel exports from Vietnam (up 7.7%) and Bangladesh (up 2.1%) enjoyed fast growth in absolute terms in 2019, their gains in market shares were quite limited (i.e., no change for Vietnam and marginally up 0.3 percentage point from 6.8% to 6.5% for Bangladesh). This result indicates that due to capacity limits, no single country has yet emerged to become the “Next China.” Instead, China’s lost market shares in apparel exports were fulfilled by a group of Asian countries altogether.

Fourth, associated with the shifting pattern of world apparel production, the world textile import is increasingly driven by apparel-exporting countries in the developing world. Notably, 2019 marks the first time that Vietnam emerged to become one of the world’s top three largest importers of textiles, primarily due to its expanded apparel production and heavy dependence on imported textile raw materials. In comparison, although the US and the EU remain the world’s top two largest textile importers, their total market shares had declined from nearly 40% in 2010 to only 31.2% in 2019, the lowest in the past ten years. Furthermore, both the US and the EU have been importing more finished textile products (such as home furnishings and carpets) as well as highly specialized technical textiles, rather than conventional yarns and fabrics for apparel production purposes. The weakening import demand for intermediary textile raw materials also suggests that reshoring (i.e., making apparel locally rather than sourcing from overseas) has NOT become a mainstream industry practice in the developed economies like the US and the EU.

Fifth, the world apparel import market is becoming ever more diversified as import demand is increasingly coming from emerging economies with a booming middle class. Affected by consumers’ purchasing power (often measured by GDP per capita) and size of the population, the European Union (EU28), US, and Japan remained the world’s top three importers of apparel in 2019. This pattern has lasted for decades. Altogether, these top three absorbed 58.1% of world apparel in 2019, which, however, was a new historic low (was 84% back in 2005). Behind the numbers, it is not the case that consumers in the EU, US, and Japan are necessarily purchasing less clothing. Instead, several emerging economies are becoming fast-growing apparel consumption markets and starting to import more. For example, China’s apparel imports totaled $8.9bn in 2019, up 8.1% from a year earlier. From 2010 to 2019, China’s apparel imports enjoyed a nearly 15% annual growth, compared with only 1.9% of the traditional top three.

by Sheng Lu

Additional reading: Lu, S. (2020). Five ways world textile and apparel trade is changing. Just-Style.

Appendix:

How Might Covid-19 Affect Apparel Sourcing and Trade

The top challenge facing apparel sourcing and trade in the shadow of Covid-19 has quickly shifted from a lack of textile raw material to order cancellation. In major apparel consumption markets such as the EU and US, clothing stores are locked down, making retailers have no choice but to postpone or even cancel sourcing orders.

Based on the Global Trade Analysis Project Recursive Dynamic (GTAP-RD) Model and its latest database, we estimated the trade impact of Covid-19 in three possible scenarios, as summarized in the table below. All these three scenarios are pretty bad but likely situations we may have to face this year. (Note: Because China, US, and EU are the epic-centers of Covid-19, in the study, we assume these three countries/regions’ economies will be hit harder than the rest of the world.)

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There are four preliminary findings:

First, the volume of the world apparel trade will be hit hard by Covid-19. As clothing stores are forced to shut down and consumers are losing jobs and struggling financially, the demand for apparel consumption in the EU and US, the world’s top two apparel consumption markets, is expected to drop sharply. As shown in the figures below, every 1% decline in the US and EU Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020 could lead to at least a 2-3% drop in the value of their apparel imports.  Notably, during the 2008 financial crisis, the value of world apparel imports also decreased by as much as 11.5% when the EU and US GDP suffered a 2.5-3% negative growth.

1

2

Second, with a sharp decline in U.S. and EU apparel imports this year, China could be hit the hardest. In all the three scenarios we estimated, China will suffer the most significant drop in its apparel exports to the US and EU markets. The reasons are threefold: The first factor is the size effect—as the largest source of US and EU apparel imports and with its unparalleled production capacity, China is often used to fulfill large-volume sourcing orders. In the current situation, however, retailers are most likely to cancel these large-quantity orders, resulting in a disproportional loss of China’s apparel exports. Secondly, the US and EU apparel imports from China currently cover almost all major categories, which also makes China the most exposed to order cancellation. Furthermore, jointly affected by last year’s US-China trade war and the outbreak of Covid-19 in China earlier this year, many US and EU fashion brands and retailers have been shifting sourcing orders from China to other Asian countries, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. To prioritize their limited resources, US and EU retailers are most likely to accelerate this process in the current difficult time.

Other than China, apparel factories in Bangladesh also could suffer severe export decline. Similar to the case of China, Bangladesh serves as a leading apparel supplier for BOTH the EU and US markets, making it more exposed to order cancellation than other countries. Notably, as a beneficiary of the EU Everything But Arms (EBA) program, around 60% of Bangladesh’s apparel currently go to the EU. In comparison, with a more diversified export market, apparel factories in Vietnam are in a better position and have more flexibility to mitigate the impact of a declined import demand from the EU and the US. In 2018, around 40% of Vietnam’s apparel exports went to other markets in the world.

Third, the decreased US and EU apparel imports will have a notable impact on employment in many apparel exporting countries. In history, a 10% change in the value of apparel exports typically results in a 4%-9% change in garment employment. This means, should the US and EU apparel imports drop by 10% in 2020, leading apparel exporting countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and India may have to cut 4%-9% of their jobs in the garment sector accordingly.  Notably, in developing countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia, the apparel sector remains the single largest job creator for the local economy, especially for women. The social and economic impact of job losses in the apparel sector due to Covid-19 is very concerning.

Fourth, the economic performance in the US, EU, and China will largely shape the pattern of apparel trade this year. The results in scenarios 1 and 2 overall are pretty close, suggesting the economic cloud of these three countries and regions altogether far exceed the rest of the world.

Last but not least, the global apparel supply chain could continue to face a turbulent time in the next 1-2 years, even if Covid-19 gradually gets under control in the second half of 2020. In history, affected by the 2008 global financial crisis, the value of world apparel exports dropped by 12.8% in 2009. However, the growth rate quickly rebounded to 11.5% the following year. Likewise, should the EU and US apparel imports were able to recover to its normal level in 2021, both importers and garment factories may have to deal with a new round of labor shortage, the price increase of raw material and a lack of production capacity.

by Sheng Lu

Additional reading:

Outlook 2018: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

Outlook 2019: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead is available 

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In January 2018, Just-Style consulted a panel of industry leaders and scholars in its Outlook 2018–Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead management briefing. Below is my contribution to the report. All suggestions and comments are most welcome!

1. What do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel industry in 2018, and why?

One of the biggest opportunities facing the apparel industry in 2018 could be the faster growth of the world economy. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global growth forecast for 2018 is expected to reach 3.7 percent, about 0.1 percent points higher than 2017 and 0.6 percent points higher than 2016. Notably, the upward economic growth will be broad-based, including the United States, the Euro area, Japan, China, emerging Europe and Russia. Hopefully, the improved growth of the world economy will translate into increased consumer demand for clothing in 2018.

Nevertheless, from the macroeconomic perspective, oversupply will remain a significant challenge facing the apparel industry in 2018. Data from the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) shows that, while the world population increased by 21.6 percent between 2000 and 2016, the value of clothing exports (inflation-adjusted) surged by 123.5 percent over the same period. Similarly, between 2000 and 2016, the total U.S. population increased by 14.5 percent and the GDP per capita increased by 22.2 percent, but the supply of apparel to the U.S. retail market surged by over 67.8 percent during the same time frame. The problem of oversupply is the root of many challenges faced by apparel companies today, from the intense market competition, pressure of controlling production and sourcing cost, struggling with excessive inventory and deep discounts to balancing sustainability and business growth.

2: What’s happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2018, and what can apparel firms and their suppliers do to stay ahead?

The 2017 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, which I conducted in collaboration with the US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) earlier this year, provides some interesting insights into companies’ latest sourcing strategies and trends. Based on a survey of 34 executives at the leading U.S. fashion companies, we find that:

First, most surveyed companies continue to maintain a relatively diversified sourcing base, with 57.6 percent currently sourcing from 10+ different countries or regions, up from 51.8 percent last year. Larger companies, in general, continue to have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. Further, around 54 percent of respondents expect their sourcing base will become more diversified in the next two years, up from 44 percent in 2016; over 60 percent of those expecting to diversify currently source from more than 10 different countries or regions already. Given the uncertainties in the market and the regulatory environment (such as the Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda), companies may use diversification to mitigate potential market risks and supply chain disruptions due to protectionism.

Second, although U.S. fashion companies continue to seek alternatives to “Made in China” actively, China’s position as top sourcing destination remains unshakable. Many respondents attribute China’s competitiveness to its enormous manufacturing capacity and overall supply chain efficiency. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the most common sourcing model is shifting from “China Plus Many” to “China Plus Vietnam Plus Many” (i.e. China typically accounts for 30-50 percent of total sourcing value or volume, 11-30 percent for Vietnam and less than 10 percent for other sourcing destinations). I think this sourcing model will likely to continue in 2018.

Third, social responsibility and sustainability continue to grow in importance in sourcing decisions. In the study, we find that nearly 90 percent of respondents give more weight to sustainability when choosing where to source now than in the past. Around 90 percent of respondents also say they map their supply chains, i.e., keeping records of name, location, and function of suppliers. Notably, more than half of respondents track not only Tier 1 suppliers, suppliers they contract with directly, but also Tier 2 suppliers, i.e., supplier’s suppliers. However, the result also suggests that a more diversified sourcing base makes it more difficult to monitor supply chains closely. Making the apparel supply chain more socially responsible, sustainable and transparent will continue to be a hot topic in 2018.

3: What should apparel firms and their suppliers be doing now if they want to remain competitive further into the future? What will separate the winners from the losers?

I assume many experts will suggest what apparel firms should change to stay competitive into the future. However, the question in my mind is what should companies keep doing regardless of the external business environment? First, I think companies should always strive to understand and impress consumers and control their supply chains. Despite the growing popularity of e-commerce and the adoption of transformative new technologies, the fundamental nature of apparel as a buyer-driven business will remain the same. Second, companies should always leverage their resources and stay “unique,” no matter it means offering differentiated products or value-added services, maintaining exclusive distribution channels or keeping the leadership position in a particular niche market. Third, apparel firms should always follow the principle of “comparative advantage” and smartly define the scope of their core business functions instead of trying to do everything. Additionally, winners will always be those companies that can take advantage of the mega-development trends of the industry and be willing to make long-term and visionary investments, both physical and intangible (such as human talents).

4: What keeps you awake at night? Is there anything else you think the apparel industry should be keeping a close eye on in the year ahead? Do you expect 2018 to be better than 2017, and why?

I think the apparel industry should keep a close eye on the following issues in 2018:

  • The destiny of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): The potential policy change to NAFTA means so much to the U.S. textile and apparel industry as well as suppliers in other parts of the world. Notably, through a regional textile and apparel supply chain facilitated by the agreement over the past 23 years, the NAFTA region has grown into the single largest export market for U.S. textile and apparel products as well as a major apparel sourcing base for U.S. fashion brands and retailers. In 2016, as much as half of U.S. textile and apparel exports went to the NAFTA region, totaling US$11billion, and U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada exceeded US$3.9billion. Understandably, if NAFTA no longer exists, sweeping changes in the trade rules, such as import duties, could significantly affect the sourcing and manufacturing behaviors of U.S. textile and apparel companies and consequentially alter the current textile and apparel trade patterns in the NAFTA region. For example, Mexico’s focus on basic apparel items suggests that U.S. importers could quickly source from elsewhere if duty savings under NAFTA are eliminated.
  • The possible reaching of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP): Even though RCEP is less well-known than the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), we should not ignore the potential impact of the agreement on the future landscape of textile and apparel supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region. One recent study of mine shows that the RCEP will lead to a more integrated textile and apparel supply chain among its members but make it even harder for non-RCEP members to get involved in the regional T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific. This conclusion is backed by the latest data from the World Trade Organization (WTO): In 2016, around 91 percent of Asian countries’ textile imports came from other Asian countries, up from 86 percent in 2006. The more efficient regional supply chain as a result of RCEP will further help improve the price competitiveness of apparel made by “factory Asia” in the world marketplace. Particularly in the past few years, textile and apparel exports from Asia have already posted substantial pressures on the operation of the textile and apparel regional supply chain in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Automation of apparel manufacturing and its impact on the job market: Recall my observations at the MAGIC this August, several vendors showcased their latest technologies which have the potential to automate the cut and sew process entirely or substantially reduce the labor inputs in garment making. The impact of automation on the future of jobs is not a new topic, but the apparel industry presents a unique situation. Globally, over 120 million people remain directly employed in the textile and apparel industries today, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), for quite a few low-income and lower-middle income countries such as Bangladesh, Gambia, Pakistan, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia, as much as over 70 percent of their total merchandise exports were textile and apparel products in 2016. Should these labor-intensive garment sewing jobs in the developing countries were replaced by machines, the social and economic impacts will be consequential. I think it is the time to start thinking about the possible scenarios and the appropriate policy responses.

What Do You Take Away from FASH455?

I encourage everyone to watch the above two short videos, which provide an excellent wrap-up for FASH455 and remind us the meaning and significance of our course.

First of all, I do hope students can take away essential knowledge about textile and apparel (T&A) trade & sourcing from FASH455. So far in the course we’ve examined the phenomenon of globalization and its implications; we also discussed various trade theories and the general pattern of the evolution of T&A industry in a country’s industrialization process; we further explored three primary T&A supply chains in the world (namely the “Western-Hemisphere” supply chain, “Factory Asia” supply chain based on the flying geese model and the phenomenon of intra-region T&A trade in Europe); last but not least, we looked at trade policies that are unique to the T&A sector (e.g.,: MFA and yarn-forward rules of origin) as well as the complicated economic, political and social factors behind the making of these trade policies. No matter your dream is to be a fashion designer, buyer, merchandiser, sourcing specialist or marketing analyst, understanding how trade and sourcing work will be highly relevant and beneficial to your future career given the global nature of today’s fashion industry.

Second, I hope FASH455 helps students shape a big picture vision of the T&A industry in the 21st-century world economy and provides students a fresh new perspective of looking at the world. Throughout the semester, we’ve examined many critical, timely and pressing global agendas that are highly relevant to the T&A industry, from apparel companies’ social responsibility practices, the debate on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda to the controversy of second-hand clothing trade. It is critical to keep in mind that we wear more than just clothes: We also wear the global economy, international business, public policy and trade politics that make affordable, fashionable, and safe clothes possible and available for hardworking families. This is also the message from many of our distinguished guest speakers this semester and I do hope you find these sessions enlightening and inspiring. 

Likewise, I hope FASH455 puts students into thinking the meaning of being a FASH major (as well as a college graduate) and how to contribute to the world we are living today positively. A popular misconception is that T&A is just about “sewing,” “fashion magazine,” “shopping” and “Project Runway.” In fact, as one of the largest and most economically influential sectors in the world today, T&A industry plays a critical and unique role in creating jobs, promoting economic development, enhancing human development and reducing poverty. As we mentioned in the class, globally over 120 million people remain directly employed in the T&A industry, a good proportion of whom are females living in poor rural areas. For most developing countries, T&A usually accounts for 70%–90% of their total merchandise exports and provide one of the very few opportunities for these countries to participate in globalization. Indeed, T&A is such an impactful sector and we are as important as any other majors on the campus!

Last but not least, I hope from taking FASH455, students can take away meaningful questions that can inspire their future study and even life’s pursuit. For example:

  • How to make the growth of global textile and apparel trade more inclusive?
  • What trade policy can promote and support textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States?
  • How to make sure that tragedies like the Rana Plaza building collapse will never happen again?
  • How to distribute the benefits & cost of globalization among different countries and groups of people more equally?
  • How to use trade policy as a tool to solve some tough global issues such as labor practices and environmental standard?
  • Is inequality a problem caused by global trade? If global trade is the problem, what is the alternative?

These questions have no real answer yet. But they are waiting for you, the young professional and the new generation of leaders, to write the history, based on your knowledge, wisdom, responsibility, courage, and creativity!

So what do you take away from FASH455? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Interview with Dr. Marsha Dickson, Co-founder of Better Buying

 Dr. Marsha Dickson, Irma Ayers Professor, Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware discusses her co-founded Better Buying project(http://www.betterbuying.org), a meaningful effort to improve the social responsibility practices in the global apparel industry. The video is produced by Mallory Metzner, reporter of channel 49 of the University of Delaware.

Historical Benefits of Trade

Interview with Dr. Douglas A. Irwin on the historical benefits of trade

Minute 1’53s: What’s wrong with the view that trade is a zero-sum game.

Minute 4’50s: A review of the concept of comparative advantage by using the textile and apparel industry as an example.

Minute 7’30s: What is trade protectionism?

Minute 9’02s: Why did the United States brace the idea of free trade after WWII and push forward the establishment of the multilateral trading system GATT?

Minute 10’30s: what drives the U.S. trade deficit from the economic perspective?

Minute 15’57s: international trade and U.S. apparel manufacturing jobs

Minute 22’15s: Is TPP a dead deal?

Minute 27’56s: What should Trump do about trade policy?

Gail Strickler, Former Assistant US Trade Representative for Textiles, on Trump’s Trade Policy

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Gail Strickler, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Textiles (2009-2015), who negotiated the textile chapter under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), visited UD on April 13 and delivered a public lecture on The Global Apparel Industry – Style and Substance. The event is part of the Fashion and Diplomacy Lecture Series sponsored by the Institute for Global Studies and the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies.

During the talk, Gail made a few comments regarding trade policy in the Trump administration:

First, Gail believes that the existing U.S. free trade agreements (FTAs), trade preference programs (PTAs) and the U.S. commitments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are unlikely to be undone by President Trump because retaliatory actions from other trading partners would be inevitable.

Second, regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Gail doesn’t think the proposed renegotiation would threaten the benefits presently enjoyed by the U.S. textile and apparel industry. Gail also thinks the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) is a lifeline for the U.S. domestic textile manufacturing sector. Notably, NAFTA and CAFTA-DR together account for almost 70% of U.S. yarn and fabric exports.

Third, as observed by Gail, Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary, has been given an expanded role in trade in the Trump Administration. Gail believes Ross’s appointment is likely to bode well for NAFTA and CAFTA-DR on textiles because Ross until recently owned the International Textile Group (ITG), which has significant investments in Mexico and relies heavily on CAFTA-DR for its textile sales.

However, Gail doesn’t think concentrating on trade deficits to define trade policy is a very “good method” of navigating the trade world. Interesting enough, last time when the U.S. trade deficit significantly shrank was during the 2008 financial crisis.  

Gail is also a strong advocator of sustainability in the textile and apparel sector. She believes that trade programs can play a vital role in encouraging sustainable development, improving labor practices and facilitating sustainable regional supply chains. According to Gail, powerful the labor provisions in trade programs can be if strong incentives are coupled with a credible threat of rapid enforcement – little evidence of effectiveness if only one (or fewer) of these conditions is met. However, comparing with enforcing labor provisions, Gail finds promoting and enforcing environmental sustainability standards through trade agreements is much more complex in the textile and apparel sector and will require creativity and strong participation from private sectors and consumers.

Before the public lecture, Gail visited FASH455 and had a special discussion session with students on topics ranging from the textile and apparel rules of origin in TPP, NAFTA renegotiation, AGOA renewal and state of the U.S. textile and apparel industry.

Outlook 2017: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

outlook

In January 2017, Just-Style consulted a panel of industry leaders and scholars in its Outlook 2017–Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead management briefing. Below is my contribution to the report. Welcome for any suggestions and comments.

1: What do you see as the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the apparel industry in 2017, and why?

I see the uncertainty in the global economy will pose one of the biggest challenges facing the apparel industry in 2017. Apparel business is buyer-driven. A great number of studies have suggested that economic growth is by far the most effective and reliable predictive factor for apparel consumption. Unfortunately, it seems apparel companies have to deal with another year of economic volatility and weak demand in 2017. For example, according to the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast released in October 2016, global economic growth in 2017 is projected to only recover to 3.4 percent from 3.1 percent in 2016. There is no particular excitement among major apparel consumption markets either: outlook of the U.S. economy in 2017 is complicated by the strong U.S dollar, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy as well as the uncertain trade and tax policy to be adopted by the new Trump administration; Economic growth in the EU region next year will continue to be hindered by the unknown fallout from UK’s referendum on leaving the EU, pervasive geopolitical uncertainties, high unemployment rates and the rising protectionist tendencies; Japan’s economic growth is projected to be as low as 1.0 percent in 2017 according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); And China’s economic growth in 2017 could slow again to 6.5 percent, which would be the slowest pace in more than 25 years. Reflecting the trend, we might see a stagnant growth or even a decline of global textile and apparel trade in 2017 as well.

Nevertheless, companies’ continuous investments on technology and innovation will create exciting new opportunities for the apparel industry. Particularly, growing areas in the apparel industry such as 3D printing, wearable technology, digital prototyping and e-commerce have made many “non-traditional” players now interested in fashion, including technology giants like Google and Apple. I think we can expect the apparel industry to become even more modern and high-tech driven in the years to come. The changing nature of the apparel industry will also increase demand for talents from an ever more diversified educational background, such as engineering, physical therapy and business analytics.

2: What’s happening with sourcing? How is the sourcing landscape likely to shift in 2017, and what strategies can help apparel firms and their suppliers to stay ahead?

One observation from me is that textile and apparel (T&A) supply chain is becoming more regional-based. For example, data from the World Trade Organization (WTO) shows that 91.4 percent of textiles imported by Asian countries in 2015 came from other Asian countries, up from 86.6 percent in 2008. This suggests that Asian countries togetherare building a more integrated T&A supply chain. Likewise, in 2015 close to 90 percent of apparel exported by North, South and Central American countries went to the United States and Canada and 81 percent of apparel exported by EU countries went to other EU countries too. To be noted, all of these three major T&A supply chains are facilitated by respective free trade agreements in the region such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), ASEAN–China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) and of course the common market enjoyed by the EU members. On the other hand, fashion brands and apparel retailers often use the Western-Hemisphere supply chain and EU-based supply chain as a supplement to the Asia-based supply chain for more fashion-oriented or time-sensitive items. I think such a dual-track sourcing strategy will continue in 2017.

Related, I think supply chain management will play a growing important role helping apparel companies control sourcing cost, improve speed to market and better meet consumers’ demand in 2017. An interesting phenomenon revealed by the 2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study released by the U.S. Fashion Industry Association is that around 30 percent of respondents say they plan to consolidate rather than diversify their sourcing base in the next 2 years. As one respondent commented, “(Our) focus right now is really finding efficiencies and maximizing productivity in the supply chain. While we won’t necessarily move out of any countries, we are consolidating the base within regions.”

Last but not least, I think in 2017 apparel companies will continue to give more weight to sustainability and social responsibility in their sourcing decisions. Building a more transparent and sustainable supply chain is an irreversible trend in the apparel industry. 

3: What should apparel firms be doing now if they want to remain competitive into the future? What will separate the winners from the losers?

To remain competitive into the future, apparel companies need to be prepared to change and be willing to try something new. Indeed, revolution is coming for the apparel industry, including the way products are made and sourced (example: 3D printing and various digital manufacturing tools), how consumers shop (example: the see-now-buy-now trend) and where and how to sell (example: the booming e-commerce and omni-channel retailing). In the past, small and medium sized companies (SME) were regarded more vulnerable than big players in the apparel industry for business survival.  However, nowadays, without embracing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, even large companies can quickly become “dinosaurs” and find their business struggling. 

4: What keeps you awake at night? Is there anything else you think the apparel industry should be keeping a close eye on in the year ahead? Do you expect 2017 to be better than 2016, and why?

One thing that keeps me awake at night as a professor is what needs to be changed or updated in our curriculum to better prepare our students for the needs of the apparel industry. Fashion programs like us directly prepare future professionals for the fashion apparel industry. This also means we are not immune to the big shift in the industry either. For example, our course offerings currently include textile science, product development, merchandising, branding and sourcing and trade. But in addition to these conventional topics, what else should be added to the curriculum? What new skill setsor knowledge points will be highly expected by the apparel industry for our students in the future? Personally I think talent training is a critical area that the apparel industry and our fashion educational programs can and should form closer partnership. And the outcomes will be mutual beneficial too.

Trade policy is another area that keeps me awake at night. Trade policy matters for the apparel industry because it affects the quantity, price and availability of products in the market. Specifically, in 2017 I will be watching closely about the following trade agendas: 1) the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which is nearing entering into force. TFA aims to make customs and border procedures easier, speed up the passage of goods between countries and lower cost of trade.

2) negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In 2015, the sixteen RCEP members altogether exported $369 billion worth of textile and apparel (50% of world share) and imported $124 billion (34% of world share). Since the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) won’t be implemented anytime soon, RCEP has the potential to influence and reshape the T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region.

3) a possible revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA is a critical factor facilitating and maintaining the Western-Hemisphere textile and apparel supply chain. A recent study of mine shows that ending the NAFTA would significantly hurt apparel manufacturing in Mexico and textile manufacturing in the United States, largely because apparel “Made in Mexico” today often contains yarns and fabrics “Made in USA”.

4) Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Although many people think these two agreements are dead, I disagree. TPP and T-TIP are NOT conventional free trade agreements (FTAs) that deal with tariffs and non-tariff barriers only. Just like why we need traffic rules, TPP and T-TIP address our needs to update international trade regulations on 21st century trade agendas such as digital trade, state-owned enterprises, labor and environmental standards, small and medium sized enterprises and trade related investment. On the other hand, both TPP and T-TIP still have a solid and broad supporting base, which includes the fashion apparel industry. If trade politics is why TPP and T-TIP are in trouble, for the same reason, we should expect a reversal of the fate of these two agreements when time arrives. Plus, we should never underestimate the creativity and wisdom of trade policymakers.

Sheng Lu

Apparel Sourcing in 2017: Results from the Just-Style State of Sourcing Survey

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The latest Just-Style State of Sourcing Survey conducted in December 2016 suggests a few trends of apparel sourcing in 2017:

  • Exchange rate volatility and rising raw material and labor costs are among the top concerns for apparel sourcing in 2017. Around 69% of survey respondents expect overall sourcing costs to rise in 2017, compared with 54.5% in last year’s survey. The fluctuating exchange rate, buyer’s expectation for higher quality of products and complex compliance requirements are among the major factors driving up the sourcing cost.
  • Apparel companies expect more uncertainties regarding the political and policy environment in 2017. Specific concerns for apparel companies include trade policy under Trump’s Administration, possible renegotiation of trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trump’s threats to impose a 45% punitive tariff on US textile and apparel imports from China. Respondents say the uncertainties make it challenging for companies to do strategic planning in advance
  • Sourcing will play an increasingly important role helping companies achieve strategic goals. It is highly expected that sourcing can contribute to meeting the fast-evolving demands of omni-channel retailing, consumers’ expectations for a more convenient shopping experience, as well as greater product innovation across all sales channels. A few respondents say they will use process and productivity improvement and closer collaboration with key suppliers to try to achieve these goals and mitigate any sourcing cost increases.   
  • Sourcing destinations may continue to slightly adjust in 2017. Specifically, 72.1% of respondents say they are looking for alternative source of supply in 2017 compared with 69.2% last year. Popular emerging sourcing destinations include Central America and the United States, EU, UK, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Kenya. However, the survey also confirms that China‘s dominance as the top apparel supplier is unlikely to change anytime soon – with a rise in the number of respondents looking to increase orders from the country in the upcoming year.

Respondents of the survey include manufacturers (29%), importers, agents or sourcing office executives (23%), retailers (12%), fiber, yarn, or fabric suppliers (11%), consulting, research, government, trade institute, NGO and university fields (14%) and software suppliers (2.6%).

Full report of the survey is available HERE.

The US Elections Explained: Trade Policy

This video is a great supplement to our discussion on the U.S. trade policy this week. To be noted, the next president’s trade policy will affect millions of Americans, as well as the health and competitiveness of the country’s economy. Done right, trade policy can also advance strategic interests like strengthening the economies of allies, deepening diplomatic ties, and promoting global cooperation that acts as a bulwark against conflict.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the video, including any points you agree, disagree or find interesting. Additional resources that can facilitate the discussion are also welcome.

Debate on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Textile and Apparel Industry: Questions from FASH455

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#1 Overall, do you think the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) reflect the commercial interests of the U.S. textile industry and/or U.S. apparel industry? Why?

#2 We know that the U.S. textile industry (such as NCTO) strongly supports a strict yarn-forward RoO in TPP whereas apparel retailers and fashion brands (such as USFIA and AAFA) say the yarn-forward style RoO is outdated and unworkable for apparel companies’ global apparel supply chain.  If you were U.S. policymakers, what would you do to “balance” these two conflicting arguments?

#3 Research shows that many free trade agreements enacted in the United States are with a very low utilization rate. Will TPP face the same fate? Why or why not?

#4 It is said that TPP has the strongest protections for workers of any trade agreement in history, requiring all TPP Parties to adopt and maintain in their laws and practices the fundamental labor rights as recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO). But why do most U.S. labor unions still oppose the agreement?

#5 Will TPP exert a negative impact on the Western Hemisphere supply chain? Why or why not? How should apparel manufacturers in the NAFTA and CAFTA-DR region respond to the potential impact of TPP, especially the intensified competition from Vietnam?

Please feel free to share your thoughts and recommend any additional articles/readings/resources relevant to the discussion. Please mention the question # in your reply.

Towards a More Inclusive Trading System

A timely, informative and intellectual discussion with Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the World Trade Organization on the state of global trade and its governance. Some important key points during Roberto’s presentation/discussion:

  • Trade has proved to be one of the most powerful pro-growth, anti-poverty tools in history: In recent decades it has helped to lift one billion people out of poverty in developing countries. The World Bank found that income grew more than three times faster for developing countries that lowered trade barriers than for those that did not. in the US, estimates show that the gains from globalization have raised real household incomes by up to $10,000 annually.
  • Trade means more choice, lower prices and real dollar in the pocket for consumers: A joint study by UCLA and Columbia found that people with high incomes could lose up to 28% of their purchasing power if borders were closed to trade. But the poorest consumers, they could lose up to 63% of their spending power
  • Trade is imperfect: Despite the obvious overall gains, trade can have negative effects in some parts of the economy. And those effects can have a big impact on some people’s lives. But we would be betraying those very same people, and many, many more, if we turned against trade and allowed the negative arguments to go unanswered.
  • Trade protectionism is an ineffective and very expensive way of protecting jobs: In the latter part of the 20th century, the EU protected various industries — including steel, agriculture and textiles. The French economist Patrick Messerlin analyzed this approach. He found that the average cost per job saved was several hundred thousand euros, or about 10 times the corresponding wage in each of those industries. The US applied tariffs on Chinese truck tires in 2009. Around 1,200 jobs were saved, but this came at a cost of $1.1 billion in higher prices for consumers. That works out as a cost of about $900,000 per job. The Petersen Institute estimates that these higher prices also resulted in around 2,500 job losses in the tire retail sector due to slumping sales.
  • Trade protectionist solutions do not reflect the nature of the modern economy and the international nature of production: Most goods aren’t made in one country. Most exports have components which have been imported. So by restricting imports, a country can restrict its own ability to export. Trade protectionism is also a two-way street. It leads to retaliation and the domino-effect.
  • Unemployment is not strictly or mainly a trade issue, trade measures will NOT address this disorder: trade is a relatively minor cause of job losses. The evidence shows that well over 80% of job losses in advanced economies are not due to trade, but to increased productivity through technology and innovation.
  • The real economic revolution that is happening today: Studies suggest that almost 50% of existing jobs in the US are at high risk of automation. An International Labor Organization (ILO) study on Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and Thailand found that 56% of jobs are at high risk of automation. And that’s just on average. In some sectors over 80% of jobs are at risk. In Japan, there are 315 robots per 10,000 workers. In China that number is only 36 — but it is rising fast. In the US, the number is 164, which is still relatively low. But it is set to go up!

Questions for thinking:

  • How do we ensure that trade can continue to promote growth and lift people out of poverty?
  • How to RESPOND to the rising anti-trade sentiment in public discourse? Is trade protectionism the right approach?
  • How to ensure that the benefits of trade reach further and wider– in other words, how to create a more inclusive global trading system? How to harness the power of e-commerce to support inclusiveness?
  • How do we help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to leverage technology so that this marketplace doesn’t just become the preserve of the big players?
  • How can the trading system adjust to the shift from a world of few, large, known exporters to a world in which exporters are many, small and unknown? How can we ensure that this transition works for consumers?

Trade and Development

This video provides a great summary of what we discussed in class on trade and development. Please keep in mind that:

  • Textile and apparel industry (T&A) plays a critical role in generating economic growth, reducing poverty and promoting human development both in history and today. This is why T&A remains a critical sector in the 21st global economy, even though people may think clothing is such a “simple” product.
  • Apparel sourcing is far more than just about how to get the product at the lowest price. Throughout the supply chain, sourcing decisions and practices are closely connected with many people’s destiny in the world, especially those living in the developing countries. As future professionals working in the fashion apparel industry, please think about your impact and responsibilities.

Please feel free to share any comments and thoughts on the video

What Does “Factory Asia” Mean for the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry?

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Slide38As we discussed in class, following the “flying geese pattern”, countries in Asia form a dynamic division of labor in textile and apparel (T&A) manufacturing. Although China may gradually lose its comparative advantage in labor-intensive apparel manufacturing, it will continue playing a critical role in “Factory Asia” (i.e. Asia-based T&A supply chain). As results, Asia will remain a giant player in T&A production and export in the years to come.

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Another important feature of “Factory Asia” is regional integration–Asian countries tend to use more and more T&A inputs from within Asia rather than from outside the region. This may improve the internal efficiency of “Factory Asia”, but also may make it harder for T&A companies outside Asia to get access to the Asian market.

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So, what is your view on “Factory Asia”? What are the implications of “Factory Asia” for the U.S. T&A industry? Can the Trans-Pacific Partnership potentially shape new T&A supply chain in the Asia-Pacific region? What market opportunities does the Asia-Pacific region present to the US T&A industry? Please feel free to share your view and any other questions in your mind about the Asia-Pacific region. 

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