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 Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2017

Statistical review of world textile and apparel trade in 2018 is now available

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According to the newly released World Trade Statistical Review 2018 by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the current dollar value of world textiles (SITC 65) and apparel (SITC 84) exports totaled $296.1bn and $454.5bn respectively in 2017, increased by 4.2% and 2.8% from a year earlier. This is the first time since 2015 that the value of world textile and apparel exports enjoyed a growth.

Textiles and apparel are not alone. Driven by rising demand for imports globally, the current dollar value of world merchandise exports also grew by 4.7% in 2017–its most robust growth in six years, to reach $17.43 trillion. Particularly, the ratio of trade growth to GDP growth finally returned to its historic average of 1.5, compared to the much lower 1.0 ratio recorded in the years following the 2008 financial crisis.

China, European Union (EU28), and India remained the world’s top three exporters of textiles in 2017. Altogether, these top three accounted for 66.3% of world textile exports in 2017, up from 65.9% in 2016. All the top three also enjoyed a faster-than-average export growth in 2017, including 5.0% of China, 5.8% of EU(28) and 5.9% of India. The United States remained the world’s fourth top textile exporter in 2017, accounting for 4.6 percent of the shares, the same as a year earlier.

Regarding apparel, China, the European Union (EU28), Bangladesh and Vietnam unshakably remained the world’s top four largest exporters in 2017. Altogether, these top four accounted for as much as 75.8% of world market shares in 2017, which was higher than 74.3% a year earlier and a substantial increase from 68.3% back in 2007.

Continuing with the emerging trend in recent years, China is exporting less apparel and more textiles to the world. Notably, China’s market shares in world apparel exports fell from its peak—38.8% in 2014 to a record low of 34.9% in 2017. Meanwhile, China accounted for 37.1% of world textile exports in 2017, 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. Measured by value, 47% of Bangladesh’s textile imports came from China in 2017, up from 39% in 2005. We observe similar trends in Cambodia (up from 30% to 65 %), Vietnam (up from 23 % to 50 %), Pakistan (up from 32 % to 71 %), Malaysia (up from 25 % to 54 %), Indonesia (up from 28 % to 46 %), Philippines (up from 19 % to 41 %) and Sri Lanka (up from 15 % to 39 %) over the same period.

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Additional readings: 
Lu, S. (2018). Changing trends in world textile and apparel trade. Just-Style.
Lu, S. (2018). How regional supply chains are shaping world textile and apparel trade. Just-Style.

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.

WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2016

[The 2017 statistics are available, see WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2017

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According to the newly released World Trade Statistical Review 2017 by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the current dollar value of world textiles (SITC 65) and apparel (SITC 84) exports totaled $284 billion and $443 billion respectively in 2016, marginally decreased by 2.3 percent and 0.4 percent respectively from a year earlier. This is the second year in a roll since 2015 that the value of world textiles and apparel exports grew negatively.

However, textiles and apparel are not alone. The current dollar value of world merchandise exports also declined by 3 percent in 2015, to $11.2 trillion, mostly caused by the strong decline in exports of fuels and mining products (-14 percent). On the other hand, as noted by the WTO, the steep drop in commodity prices recorded in 2015 mostly halted in 2016, except energy prices.

Textile and apparel exports

Measured in value, China, European Union, and India remained the top three exporters of textiles in 2016. Altogether, these top three accounted for 65.9 percent of world exports in 2016, slightly down from 66.5 percent in 2015, which is mostly due to India’s shrinking market shares.

The United States remained the fourth top textile exporter in 2016, accounting for 4.6 percent of the shares (down from 4.8 percent in 2015). Over half of the top ten exporters experienced a decline in the value of their exports in 2016, with the highest declines seen in Hong Kong (-13 percent), Taiwan (-8 percent), South Korea (-6 percent) and the United States (-6 percent). Notably, Vietnam entered the world’s top ten textile exporters for the first time (2 percent market shares, 9 percent growth rate from 2015).

Top three exporters of apparel include China, the European Union, and Bangladesh. Altogether, they accounted for 69.1 percent of world exports, close to 70.3 percent in 2015. Among the top ten exporters of apparel, increases in export values were recorded by Cambodia (+6 percent), Bangladesh (+6 percent), Vietnam (+5 percent), and European Union (+4 percent). Other leading exporters saw stagnation in their export values (such as Turkey) or recorded a decline (such as China, India, and Indonesia).

Could be negatively affected by the rising labor and production cost, China’s shares in the world textile exports dropped from 37.4 percent in 2015 to 37.2 percent in 2016, and the shares in the world apparel exports fell from 39.2 percent in 2015 to 36.4 percent in 2016—a record low since 2010.

Textile and apparel imports

Measured in value, the European Union, the United States, and China were the top three importers of textiles in 2016. These top three altogether accounted for 38 percent of world textile imports, slightly up from 37 percent in 2015, but remains much lower than over 53 percent back in 2000. Notably, over the past decade, apparel manufacturing continues to shift from developed to developing countries and many developing countries heavily rely on imported textile inputs due to the lack of local manufacturing capacity. This explains why more textile exports now go to the developing nations.

On the other hand, 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 top three importers of apparel in 2016. Altogether, these top three accounted for 62.9 percent of world apparel imports in 2016, up from 59 percent in 2015. Notably, China is quickly becoming one of the world’s top apparel importers. From 2010 to 2016, China’s apparel imports enjoyed an annual 17 percent growth, much higher than most other countries.

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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.

[Discussion for this post is closed]

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?

WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2015

The World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2016 is now available

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According to the newly released World Trade Statistical Review 2016 by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the current dollar value of world textiles (SITC 65) and apparel (SITC 84) exports totaled $291 billion and $445 billion respectively in 2015, but decreased by 7.2 percent and 8.0 percent from a year earlier. This is the first time since the 2009 financial crisis that the value of world textiles and apparel exports grew negatively.

However, textiles and apparel are not alone. The current dollar value of world merchandise exports also declined by 13 percent in 2015,to $16.0 trillion, as export prices fell by 15 percent. In comparison, the volume of world trade grew slowly at a rate of 2.7 percent, which was roughly in line with world GDP growth of 2.4 percent. WTO says that falling prices for oil and other primary commodities, economic slowdown in China, a severe recession in Brazil, strong fluctuations in exchange rates, and financial volatility driven by divergent monetary policies in developed countries are among the major factors that contributed to the weak performance in world trade.

Textile and apparel exports

China, the European Union and India remained the top three exporters of textiles in 2015. Altogether, they accounted for 66.4 percent of world exports. The United States remained the fourth top textile exporter in 2015. The top ten exporters all experienced a decline in the value of their exports in 2015, with the highest declines seen in the European Union (-14 percent) and Turkey (-13 percent). The smallest decline was recorded in China (-2 percent).

Top three exporters of apparel include China, the European Union and Bangladesh. Altogether, they accounted for 70.3 percent of world exports. Among the top ten exporters of apparel, increases in export values were recorded by Vietnam (+10 percent), Cambodia(+8 percent), Bangladesh (+6 percent) and India (+2 percent). The other major exporters saw stagnation in their export values (United States) or recorded a decline (all other top ten economies).

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Additionally, despite reported rising production cost, China’s market shares in world textile and apparel exports continued to rise in 2015 (see the figure above).

Textile and apparel imports

The European Union, China and the United States were the top three importers of textiles in 2015. However, altogether they accounted for only 37 percent of world imports, down from 52.8 percent in 2000. Because a good proportion of textiles made by developed countries (such as the United States) are exported to developing countries for apparel manufacturing purposes, the pattern reflects the changing dynamics of world apparel manufacturing and exports in recent years.

Because of consumers’ purchasing power (often measured by GDP per capita) and size of the population, the European Union, the United States and Japan remained the top three importers of apparel in 2015. Altogether, they accounted for 59 percent of world imports, but down from 78 percent in 2000. This indicates that import demand from other economies, especially some emerging markets, have been growing faster over the past decade.

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Exclusive Interview with Erin Ennis, Vice President, US-China Business Council

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Erin Ennis has been Vice President of the US-China Business Council (USCBC) since May 2005. In that position, she directs the Council’s government affairs and advocacy work for member companies and oversees the Council’s Business Advisory Services. She also leads a coalition of other trade associations on issues of interest to companies doing business with China. Founded in 1973, the US-China Business Council provides extensive China-focused information, advisory, and advocacy services, along with comprehensive events, to nearly 250 US corporations operating within the United States and throughout Asia.

Prior to joining the Council, Ms. Ennis worked at Kissinger McLarty Associates, the international consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former White House Chief of Staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty. At Kissinger McLarty, Ms. Ennis was responsible for implementing strategies for international business clients on proprietary trade matters, primarily in Vietnam and Japan.

Before entering the private sector, Ms. Ennis held several positions in the US Government. From 1992 to 1996, Ms. Ennis was a legislative aide to former U.S. Senator John Breaux, working on international trade and commerce. She also worked on health care issues during the Senate’s consideration of President Bill Clinton’s health care reform, an issue on which Senator Breaux actively worked to broker a compromise.

At the Office of the US Trade Representative from 1996 to 2000, Ms. Ennis first worked in Congressional Affairs on Asia issues, including annual approvals of China’s most favored nation status and the ill-fated 1997 push to renew presidential “fast track” negotiating authority. Beginning in 1998, she was assistant to Deputy US Trade Representative Richard Fisher, who led US trade negotiations and enforcement with Asia, the Americas, and on intellectual property rights.

Interview Part

Sheng Lu: Our students wonder whether increased trade with China is good or bad for the U.S. economy. Many of them consider the U.S. trade deficit with China to be a serious problem and they are worried about the loss of U.S. jobs to China. What’s your view and insights?

Erin Ennis: We should be realistic about what trade balance data shows and what it doesn’t. There is almost no correlation between a high US trade deficit and a strong US economy. In fact, we tend to have the lowest trade deficits when our economy is doing the worst – take a look at the data from the recent global recession between 2009 and 2010 for example versus what the trade deficit looked like in the 1990s when our economy was booming. We also don’t save much of our earnings, which also factors into the data.

Focusing on a single country as the source of our concerns leads to an inaccurate view that what other countries do has more of an effect on our economy than our own domestic policies. We should indeed be concerned about job creation in the US, but to do that, we should be implementing policies that ensure that we have as competitive an economy as possible. That will require a combination of education, energy, tax and other domestic policies. It also requires our economy to be as open as possible and pursuing market openings globally so that US goods and services have opportunities for sales overseas.

Sheng Lu: The USCBC 2014 China Business Environment Survey describes China as “an extremely difficult business environment along with a vital, growing market for foreign businesses”. We all know that China is an emerging market, but what are the top challenges faced by U.S. companies doing business in China?

Erin Ennis: Our survey goes into detail about the various challenges that companies experience in China. Competition with Chinese companies was the top issue in 2014, an issue that was not only cited independently, but also factors into several other issues that were cited such as foreign investment restrictions, uneven enforcement of laws, licensing disparities, and discrimination in the market. IPR enforcement is also a top concern for companies. Beyond those, there are also issues that both Chinese and foreign companies are grappling with in the market: a very tight labor market and significant increases in the cost of doing business.

Sheng Lu: Related to the previous question, two numbers in the USCBC survey seem to be very interesting: Although 90 percent of respondents consider rising costs in China a concern, only 14 percent of respondents say they actually reduced or stopped planned investment in China in the past year. How to explain this phenomenon?

Erin Ennis: The simple answer is that companies don’t make decisions on where to do business solely on cost. Most companies report that they are doing business in China to access Chinese customers. While costs may have increased, their opportunities for increased sales have increased too. China’s market grew at about 7% in 2014 – still a rapid rate of growth, even though it is slower than in previous years. Companies are likely to stay in the market, even as costs increase, to continue to access those opportunities.

Sheng Lu: While it is under heated discussion whether China should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or not, USCBC suggests that a successful conclusion of the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations should be the top priority in the US-China economic relationship. What is BIT and why does it matter for U.S. companies?

Erin Ennis: The short answer is that a BIT matters because it will require China to provide the same treatment to foreign companies that it provides to domestic ones and it will require China to open many sectors of its economy to foreign investment that remain closed. More detailed explanations of what the BIT is and why it matters can be found on USCBC’s website here: https://www.uschina.org/advocacy/bilateral-investment-treaty.

Sheng Lu: December 2015 will mark the 15th anniversary of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In your view, what are the most important changes in US-China economic relations since China joins the WTO?

Erin Ennis: China’s WTO access required it to open significant parts of its economy to foreign companies. In general China has done a good job of implementing those commitments. As a consequence, China has grown to be the United States’ third largest trading partners after Canada and Mexico, with whom we have a free trade agreement. More needs to be done, however, to open China’s market. The US-China BIT negotiations will be a useful tool in achieving that goal.

Sheng Lu: China’s recent sweeping anti-graft campaign has attracted the world attention. How does the US business community look at this campaign? Will this campaign have any long-term impact on China’s business environment?

Erin Ennis: In general, the anticorruption campaign is viewed very positively by foreign companies because it is an additional way to ensure that all companies are treated equally in China – bribes and other illegal activities should never be tolerated. To date, the only impact that foreign companies have reported is that it takes longer to get some projects or licenses approved because Chinese officials are being overly cautious in ensuring that there is no appearance of impropriety. Those kinds of delays are ones that companies are willing to deal with.

Sheng Lu: Our students wonder if China presents as a career opportunity for them as well. What’s your observation and do you have any suggestions for our students interested in working/interning in China?

Erin Ennis: If you are serious about working in China, then learning Chinese should be at the top of your to do list – but the same could be said about going to work in any foreign country: learn their language. Beyond that, go to China and experience it. There are plenty of ways to do both of those, but language and on the ground experience will establish your credibility as someone who is serious about the specific opportunities in China, rather than someone who just wants a chance to live in a different country. Final suggestions: read as much as you can and question what you read. China is not a monolith and, as anywhere, there are always multiple sides to every story – that’s especially true in business and politics. Having an informed view of those dynamics will serve you well.

–The End–

World Textile and Apparel Trade (Update: August 2014)

The following analysis is conducted based on the statistics released by the World Trade Organization on August 5, 2014.

1. Asia continues to dominate the world textile and apparel exports from 2012 to 2013.

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2. Despite concerns about its rising labor cost, China continues to gain more market shares in world textile and apparel exports from 2012 to 2013.

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3. World market for textiles remains relatively stable from 2000 to 2013; world market for apparel is gradually shifting and diversifying. Although Europe and North America still account for lion’s shares in world apparel imports (due to their higher GDP per capita), Asia is the fast growing market.

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4. Intra-region trade remains a distinct pattern in world T&A trade, particularly in Asia, Europe and America. However, the pattern has become substantially weakened in Europe and America from 2000 to 2013, which could be the results of increasing number of FTAs in these regions.

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5. US textile and apparel exports increased 3.3% and 4.4% respectively from 2012 to 2013. North America remains the single largest T&A export market for the United States.

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by Sheng Lu

Why Textile and Apparel Majors Need to Know about Trade Policy

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This past week, our class moved to the topic of trade policy, which as usual turned out to be one of the most challenging and “least exciting” chapters for our students. A common question in students’ mind is (and probably for some professors in the textile and apparel field as well): as a fashion major, why do I need to care about trade policy?

The answer is straightforward: textile market is shaped by rules—trade policy. Trade policy affects the availability of T&A products in the market in terms of quantity, price and speed. Trade policy also affects T&A companies’ access to the market, both domestic and foreign. Simply look at the clothing and shoes we wear daily: if they are imported, very likely the price we pay includes 10-30% additional tax (tariff). Even the clothing is “made in USA”, we should realize that the survival of US domestic apparel manufacturing could be the result of protection by the exact same trade policy which makes imported competing products 10—30% more expensive than otherwise in the US market.

Yet, trade policy does not happen naturally. Trade policies are deliberately made by policymakers and strongly influenced by industry players. Two things I hope our students can realize: first, the T&A industry cannot afford ignoring trade policy. Think about this case: if the US yarn manufacturers did not actively advocate “yarn-forward” rules of origin to be adopted in NAFTA and CAFTA, what will happen to their fate right now? Vice versa, how will the commercial interests of apparel retailers/importers be affected if they stop voicing themselves and simply leave the trade protectionism forces to influence trade policymakers? As the saying goes: if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. To certain extent, there is no good or bad trade policy, but winners and losers.

Second, understanding trade policy making is about understanding the real world. Trade policymaking is a painful balancing process like trying to “breathe and suck at the same time”.Not only different interests groups may have conflicting views on a specific trade policy, but also different policymakers may have their respective philosophies and priorities. As we mentioned in the class, agencies in the executive branch such as the US Trade Representative Office and the Commerce Department put national interests and international obligations of the United States at its heart whereas the Congress often times gives preferences to regional, sectoral and party interests.  A full understanding of T&A trade policy thus requires familiarity with what’s going on in this unique industry sector, knowledge about its key players as well as having a big picture vision in mind. For example, without recognizing the value of becoming a WTO member for China, it will be difficult to appreciate why it was willing to allow US to restrict its apparel exports from 2003 to 2008 on a discriminatory basis (T-shirt book, part III).

Our FASH students shall be encouraged to jump out of the narrowly-defined fashion world, because no industry operates as an island. Instead, the T&A industry is part of the world economy and shaped by the “rest” of the world economy.

 Sheng Lu

Expanding Global Trade through Innovation and the Digital Economy

 

This is the introductory video of this year’s World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum hosted from Oct 1 to Oct 3. The WTO Public Forum is an annual event that provides a platform for public debate across a wide range of WTO issues and trade topics. The Public Forum is also an opportunity for us in the WTO to listen and exchange views with non-government organizations (NGOs), academia, the private sector, with those of you who are increasingly participating in shaping the world’s economic and political environment. This year’s Public Forum looks at the future of trade in an era of innovation and digitalization.

As put it by Michael Froman, the U.S. Trade Representative :” The global marketplace has experienced a sea change. Combining globalization with new technology and with new business models has dramatically accelerated the pace of change and innovation. The flow of data is as important as the movement of goods. Services are an increasing share of value-added manufacturing. And the market is determining standards at an increasingly rapid pace.”

WTO Public Forum 2012: “Is Multilateralism in crisis?”

For your reference. Many issues are relevant to textile and apparel sectors (for example: global value chain, trade and job, trade facilitation, competition policy, intelletrual property right protection, green economy, pluralism/regionalism as well as trade and development).  

This year’s WTO Public Forum will debate:

  • formulating new approaches to multilateral trade opening in areas such as trade facilitation;
  • addressing 21st-century issues and identifying areas in need of new regulations;
  • looking at the role of non-state actors in strengthening the multilateral trading system

The session will cover the following sessions

  • Global value chain: implications for trade policy
  • Trade and job
  • The multilateral trading system in the 21st century: interaction between trade and competition policy
  • Plurilaterals and Bilaterals: Guardians or Gravediggers of the WTO?

This year’s Ideas Workshops will cover:

  • How to ensure green economy policies are implemented in a co-ordinated manner rather than at cross-purposes?
  • The future of the WTO dispute settlement system.
  • Rethinking trade-related aspects of intellectual property in today’s global economy.

WTO’s first ever Youth Ambassadors, selected by separate video and essay contests, will discuss the topic “How can trade promote development?”

The Great Recession and Trade Protectionism: What Went Right?

A great commentary article on a recent study on trade protectionist measures by Chad Bown, a former professor from Brandeis university and a guru on trade remedy measures. It is interesting to note that the using of trade protectionist measures is much less frequent today than in the past. I agree with the reasons proposed by the article, such as the establishment of the WTO as a monitoring body, global production and emerging markets instead of developed countries becoming leading importers. On the other hand, trade protectionist measures are taking more diversified forms today and the scope has gone far beyond the traditional AD, CVD and safeguard measures. In particuar, measures that intend to promote export potentially could raise new trade disputes among leading exporters.

The full report can be downloaded from here

The Sixth Anniversary of Post-quota Era

The Sixth Anniversary of Post-quota Era:

New Patterns of World Textile and Clothing Trade and Critical Trade Policy Issues

By Sheng Lu

Keywords: Post-quota era, world textile and clothing trade, trade policy

       Impact of the elimination of the 40-year textile and clothing (T&C) quota system on January 1, 2005 has always been a research interest to scholars in the field. Shifting from a highly-distorted trading environment to a much more market-based competition, reshuffle of the world T&C trade in the post-quota era is widely believed to be unavoidable and will have ripple effects on the future landscape of the global T&C industry (Dickerson, 1999; Nordas, 2004).

After six years of transition, medium and long-term effects of quota elimination have begun to display, attributed to adjustment of business practices of T&A firms in response to the new “rules of the game” (UNIDO, 2009). By taking advantage of such great timing, this study scrutinizes patterns of world T&C trade that have been newly emerged so far in the post-quota era.  Capturing these new trends of development at the macro-industry level can both deepen understanding about the 40-year quota system itself and raise awareness of emerging research agendas for world T&C trade.

Three specific post-quota patterns of world T&C trade are discussed in the study:

First, non-dominant position of China in world T&C export. At first glance, China increased its market share in world T&C export by roughly 10 percentage points from 2005 to 2008, suggesting China was one of the biggest winners of quota elimination (WTO, 2010). However, a closer look will find: (1) China gained its market share at a decelerating rate over that period, implying China’s export surge at the very beginning of quota elimination was mainly due to the temporary transition effect; (2) At the disaggregated 6-digit HS code level, China’s export performance varied greatly from product to product, implying other exporters was still able to compete with China in the post-quota era by focusing on certain T&C product categories; (3) A number of Asian and European countries other than China also enjoyed robust growth in T&C export since 2005, suggesting China was one of the beneficiaries  rather than the only winner of the post-quota era. Last but not least, the emergence of the “China+1” sourcing strategy indicated that T&C importers already started selecting other possible substitution sourcing destination as China’s back-up. In particular, importers were cautions about China’s rising manufacturing cost and the business risks associated with placing “too many eggs in one basket”.

Second, geographic concentration of T&C trade and increasing dependence on textile manufacturing capacity for clothing export. This new pattern is closely associated with changes of buyers’ sourcing practices. Specifically: (1) Market concentration rate (Herfindahl index) in major T&C importing countries, such as the United States, Europe and Japan, quickly went up since 2005 because of buyers’ consolidation of their sourcing channels. Traditional trade patterns such as “triangle manufacturing” and “outward processing trade” which were artificially created by the quota system can no longer justify their rationality of existence when quota restriction were removed. (2) The traditional “Cut, Make and Trim” (CMT) sourcing practice was gradually replaced by full-package sourcing. This shift was largely caused by the upgrading of global T&C value chain, including the transition of branded manufacturers into marketers and retailers’ more active involvement in direct sourcing; (3) Compared to CMT, qualified destination for full package sourcing needs to have the capacity of locally manufacturing textiles. This requirement poses big challenges to many developing countries which haven’t established a sound textile industry yet due to their overall lagged behind economic development.  Impacts of full package sourcing on many aspects of the global T&C industry can be further studied.

Third, widening gap of intra-region trade patterns between America and Europe. As one format of vertical division of labor formed by countries in the same region but at different development stages, intra-region trade was a special feature of the world T&C trade, especially in America and Europe (Dickerson, 1999). However, statistics showed that intra-region trade in America quickly dropped from 69% to 55.7% for textiles and 48.5% to 26.9% for clothing from 2004 to 2008 (WTO, 2010). The decline occurred despite the new passage of several free-trade agreements which deliberately include clauses encouraging the using of U.S.-made textile products by neighboring developing countries. Accompanied with lowering share of intra-region T&C trade, imports from Asia keep constant rising in America over the same period. In contrast, share of intra-region trade in Europe remained stable, stood at around 75% for textiles and 82% for clothing. More studies can be done to explore the causes of such widening gap between America and Europe in terms of intra-region trade patterns.

This study also calls for awareness of “unexpected” negative effects of some trade policies on developing countries’ T&C export in the post-quota era. These trade policies include although not limited to: (1) WTO Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The DDA negotiation set the goal to cut import tariff for T&C product worldwide. However, reduced tariff rate will also wear down the real benefits of preferential duty-free treatment enjoyed by some least developed countries when competing with T&C export giants such as China and India; (2) Rule of origin (ROO) provisions in free-trade agreements. ROO originally was developed to ensure preferential treatments be enjoyed only by eligible FTA members. However, as ROO is specific to each FTA, the complexity and inconsistency made many preferential treatments seldom be taken advantage of. ROO further reduces the incentives for developing countries to develop their own textile industry. This put developing countries at a special disadvantage position when buyers are shifting to full package sourcing as discussed above. (3) Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Aimed at promoting economic growth in the developing world, developed countries allow preferential duty-free entry of imports from eligible developing countries through the GSP program. Ironically, although T&C account for 50%-90% of total exports for many developing countries (WTO, 2010), most T&C importers including the United States and the European Union still reject including T&C in their GSP programs due to opposition from political forceful domestic industries with concerns about import competition. It is a challenge for policy makers in the post-quota era to design a set of fair and rational trading rules under which developing countries can enjoy the benefits of quota elimination and have more opportunities participating in world T&C trade. Academia has its key role to play in this endeavor.

 References

Dickerson, K. G. (1999). Textiles and apparel in the global economy. N.J.: Merrill

Nordas, H. K. (2004). The global textile and clothing industry post the agreement on textiles and clothing. WTO discussion papers, 5. Geneva: WTO Publications

United Nations Industrial Development Organization, UNIDO (2009). The Impact of Institutions on Structural Change in Manufacturing: the Case of International Trade Regime in Textiles and Clothing. Vienna: Austria

World Trade Organization, WTO. (2010). World Trade Statistics, Geneva: Switzerland