WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2018

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

I. Textile export

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

II. Apparel export

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

III. Textile import

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

IV. Apparel import

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

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Additional reading: Latest trends in world textile and apparel trade

WTO Forecasts World Trade to Grow 2.4% in 2017

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In its latest trade statistics and outlook report, the World Trade Organization (WTO) forecasts the world merchandise trade volume to grow within a range of 1.8-3.6% in 2017 (on average 2.4%). This growth rate is slightly up from a very weak growth of 1.3% in 2016. WTO expects trade growth to further pick up to 2.1-4% in 2018.

On the positive side, the global GDP growth is expected to rebound to 2.7% in 2017 from 2.3% in 2016, which will contribute to the expansion of world trade. Notably, WTO expects emerging economies to return to modest economic growth in 2017. However, WTO sees policy uncertainty, including the imposition of restrictive trade measures and monetary tightening, a main risk factor to world trade this year.

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WTO also noted that since the financial crisis, the ratio of trade growth to GDP growth has fallen to around 1:1. And 2016 marked the first time since 2001 that this ratio has dropped below 1, to a ratio of 0.6:1. Historically, the volume of world merchandise trade has tended to grow about 1.5 times faster than world output. WTO is cautiously optimistic that the ratio will partly recover in 2017, but the ratio will remain a cause for concern.

At the press conference, Trump Administration’s trade policy receives significant attention. But according to  Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of WTO, “just an overall statement of the intention to go one particular way or another, does not tell us what the trade policy is and does not tell us what the impact of that trade policy will be. Instead, the devil is in the details”. Roberto said he is waiting to see Trump’s new trade team in place (for example, the new US Trade Representative) and he looks forward to the meaningful dialogues with the team to know more details and clarity of U.S. trade policy. Until then, any comments on the impact of Trump Administration’s trade policy would be just speculations.

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