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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TPP Textile Negotiation Updates (March 2015)

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According to Inside US Trade, negotiators continued their work on the technical details of the textile chapter under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the latest round of negotiation in Hawaii. Although progress has been achieved, key issues remain unsolved.   Exceptions to Yarn-Forward Rule of Origin Since the 807A program under the Caribbean Basin Imitative (CBI) enacted in 1998, the so called “yarn-forward” rule of origin has been adopted in almost all free trade agreement (FTA) and trade preference program (TPA) reached between the United States and its trading partners. “Yarn forward” rule requires that each step of apparel production from spinning of the yarn must take place in one of the FTA countries. At the same time, FTA/TPA often adopt exceptions in addition to “yarn-forward” rule so as to provide flexibility to importers, especially in the case when certain textile and apparel products are not available in commercial quantities from the FTA/TPA region. It is almost certain at this point that TPP will continue to adopt the “yarn forward” rules of origin. However, what kind of exceptions to the yarn forward rule will be allowed in TPP remain unclear: 1) How long will be the “short supply” list in TPP? Short supply list is a mechanism which allows fibers, yarns, and fabrics determined not to be available in commercial quantities in a timely manner from within the FTA partner countries to be sourced from outside the countries for use in qualifying textile and apparel products. According to Inside US Trade, some TPP countries want to declare the short-supply list complete as soon as possible so that they can shift the discussion to other possible exceptions to the yarn-forward rule. However, others doubt that the U.S. would be willing to contemplate additional exceptions and therefore believe that the best approach is to keep the short-supply list open and try to add as many products as possible. 2) Whether there will be other exception mechanisms in TPP in addition to the “short supply” list? According to Inside US Trade, there were some discussions on creating a separate mechanism such as the tariff-preference levels (TPL) in TPP. TPL allows for a certain quantity of textile and apparel goods (usually yarns, fabrics and cut pieces) from a third-country (a country who is not a party to the agreement) to qualify for the FTA benefits. Additionally, it is more than just Vietnam that is seeking more exceptions to the “yarn forward” rule in TPP. For example, Australia and New Zealand are also doing so, which may be in large part for tactical reasons — essentially holding up the textile talks as leverage to secure acceptable outcomes in other areas that are more important to them, for instance, agricultural market access or intellectual property. Tariff Phrase-out Mechanism Inside US Trade says that U.S. is sticking to the framework that it laid out in its initial tariff offer, which put products into three categories subject to different phrase-out schedule:

  • X-basket, which covers the most sensitive products that would be subject to an initial cut upon entry into force, but then remain in place until they are eliminated in the tenth year for knit apparel and fifteenth year for woven apparel
  • B-basket, which consists of slightly more sensitive apparel items that would be subject to a linear tariff phase-out over five years
  • A-basket, which consists of least sensitive items whose tariff rate would go to zero immediately upon TPP entries into force

Key questions remain as to which items the United States will place into what basket. Other issues in the textile chapter The TPP textile chapter may also include languages on the following two issues: 1) a special safeguard mechanism under which the importing country can raise tariffs up to the most-favored nation (MFN) level in the case of an import surge; 2) customs language on the inspection mechanism.

Mexican New Import Rules on Textiles and Apparel Raise Concerns

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In January 2015, Mexico announced a set of new measures aimed at combating “unfair” trade practices in T&A imports and enhancing the competitiveness of domestic T&A sector in the face of increasing foreign competition.

The proposed measures will particularly target those imports considered to be “undervalued” by the Mexican government. According to Inside US Trade and Sourcing Journal Online, one of these measures is to establish a minimum reference price for imported T&A products. If shipments enter at below that price, they would be subject to an investigation by the Mexican government that could lead to the imposition of additional duties and taxes. To be noted, the proposed new measures will be taken separately from traditional trade remedy measures such as anti-dumping, countervailing duty and safeguard.

Other proposed measures intend to strengthen custom enforcement, including:

  • Mexico will required a mandatory registry for T&A imports. A similar registry system has been required for footwear;
  • Mexico will postpone the import duty reduction that was expected to be implemented at the beginning of 2016 on 73 apparel items and seven textile made-ups. Originally slated to enter into force on January. 1, 2013, the duty reduction from 25 percent to 20 percent has been twice postponed for one-year periods and will now be delayed until 2018;
  • Importers will be required to provide advance notice of shipments to the Mexican Economy Secretariat in the future;
  • Mexico will break down the current eight-digit tariff lines for textile and apparel products into 10 digits, which an industry source said would allow tariff rates to be more specific in light of the fact that apparel products have evolved to be more specialized;

Moreover, Mexico will implement a new financing mechanism with total available credit of 450 million pesos (around $30 million USD) over the next 12 months to help the domestic T&A industry (especially small- and medium-sized enterprises) upgrade their machinery and equipment, pursue innovative strategies and develop new products. The Mexican Service Agency for the Commercialization and Development of Agricultural Markets (Aserca) will further support the purchase of cotton from domestic growers by textile manufacturers.

According to WWD, the US T&A industry has three major concerns about Mexican’s proposed measures: one is the potential delay in custom clearance and more complicated documentation requirements; second is the additional tariff rate and increased cost of exporting from the United States or anywhere else in the world to Mexico; third is the lack of policy transparency adding to the potent business risks.

Industry Background

T&A industry accounted for 3.7 percent of Mexico’s GDP in 2013 (1.3 percent for textiles and 2.5 percent for apparel). About 415,000 workers directly employed in the sector in 2013, among which 74 percent worked for the apparel sector.

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One important feature of Mexico’s T&A industry is the so called “Maquiladora” operation: simple sewing of garments made from imported fabrics and using cheap labor. The “Maquiladora” operation is largely coordinated by US-based apparel brands and retailers. Most of “Maquiladora” factories are located in the free trade zones, in which equipment and imported materials (such as fabrics) can be duty-free. Output of “Maquiladora” are exported, mostly to the United States.

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Mexico imported $8.6 billion T&A in 2013, among which $2.4 billion were fabrics, followed by made-up textiles ($0.55 billion) and yarns ($0.39 billion). This pattern reveals Mexico’s heavy reliance on imported textiles due to limited domestic textile manufacturing capacity.

At the same time, Mexico’s apparel imports increased from $2.4 billion in 2008 to $2.9 billion in 2013. Particularly, Mexico’s apparel imports from China surged by 558.8 percent between 2008 and 2013. In 2013 alone, apparel imports from China went up by 42.1% to $0.97 billion. It is said that China is the main target of Mexico’s proposed new import measures.

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