What Will Happen to the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry if NAFTA Is Gone?

According to the New York Times, President Trump is likely to sign an executive action that would begin the process of withdrawing the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Since its taking effect in 1995, NAFTA, a trade deal between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, has raised heated debate regarding its impact on the U.S. economy. President Trump has repeatedly derided NAFTA, describing it as “very, very bad” for U.S. companies and workers, and he promised during his campaign that he would remove the United States from the trade agreement if he could not negotiate improvements.

The U.S. textile and apparel (T&A) industry is a critical stakeholder of the potential policy change, because of its deep involvement in the regional T&A supply chain established by the NAFTA. Particularly, over the past decades, trade creation effect of the NAFTA has significantly facilitated the formation of a regional T&A supply chain among its members. Within this supply chain, the United States typically exports textiles to Mexico, which turns imported yarns and fabrics into apparel and then exports finished apparel back to the United and Canada for consumption.

So what will happen to the U.S. T&A industry if NAFTA no longer exists? Here is what I find*:

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First, results show that ending the NAFTA will significantly hurt U.S. textile exports. Specifically, the annual U.S. textile exports to Mexico and Canada will sharply decline by $2,081 million (down 47.7%) and $351 million (down 14%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015.Although U.S. textile exports to other members of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), will slightly increase by $42 million (up 1.5%), the potential gains will be far less than the loss of exports to the NAFTA region.

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Second, results show that ending the NAFTA will significantly reduce U.S. apparel imports from the NAFTA region. Specifically, annual U.S. apparel imports from Mexico and Canada will sharply decrease by $1,610 million (down 45.3%) and $916 million (down 154.2%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015 (H2 is supported). However, ending the NAFTA would do little to curb the total U.S. apparel imports, largely because U.S. companies will simply switch to importing more apparel from other suppliers such as China and Vietnam.

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Third, ending NAFTA will further undercut textile and apparel manufacturing in the United States rather than bring back “Made in the USA.” Specifically, annual U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing will decline by $1,923 million (down 12.8%) and $308 million (down 3.0%) respectively compared to the base year level in 2015 (H3 is supported). Weaker demand from the NAFTA region is the primary reason why U.S. T&A manufacturing will suffer a decline.

These findings have several important implications. On the one hand, the results suggest that the U.S. T&A will be a big loser if the NAFTA no longer exists. Particularly, ending the agreement will put the regional T&A supply chain in jeopardy and make the U.S. textile industry lose its single largest export market—Mexico. On the other hand, findings of the study confirm that in an almost perfectly competitive market like apparel, raising tariff rate is bound to result in trade diversion. With so many alternative suppliers out there, understandably, ending the NAFTA will NOT increase demand for T&A “Made in the USA,” nor create more manufacturing jobs in the sector. Rather, Asian textile and apparel suppliers will take away market shares from Mexico and ironically benefit most from NAFTA’s dismantlement.

*Note: The study is based on the computable general equilibrium (CGE) model developed by the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP). Data of the analysis came from the latest GTAP9 database, which includes trade and production data of 57 sectors in 140 countries in 2015 as the base year. For the purpose of the study, we assume that if NAFTA no longer exists, the tariff rate applied for T&A traded between NAFTA members will increase from zero to the normal duty rate (i.e. the Most-Favored-Nation duty rate) in respective countries.

by Sheng Lu

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.

 

Are US Textile and Apparel Imports Using Free Trade Agreements? (Updated February 2017)

Free trade agreements (FTAs) are arrangement among two or more countries under which they agree to eliminate tariffs and non-tariff (NTB) barriers on trade among themselves (Cooper, 2014). Theoretically, companies shall be interested in increasing imports from FTA regions because of the duty free treatment (i.e. trade creation effect). Particularly not paying import tariff duty can be a great cost advantage for textile and apparel (T&A) companies given the fact that the average US import tariff rate was still as high as 8% for textiles and 11.6% for apparel in 2016 (WTO, 2017).

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Despite the potential benefit of using FTAs, data from the Office of Textiles and Apparel show that 85.7% of US T&A imports came from non-FTA regions in 2016. Interesting enough, although more FTAs have taken effect in the United States, T&A imported under FTA as a percent of total T&A imports dropped from 15.1% in 2008 to 14.3% in 2016.

Among the FTAs in force, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Dominican-Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) altogether accounted for 75.9% of the value of total U.S. T&A imports under FTAs in 2016.

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Statistics further reveal that sometimes companies did not claim duty free benefits of FTAs even though they imported T&A from the FTA region. For example, in 2016 about 29.9% of U.S. T&A imports from South Korea, 24.3% from CAFTA-DR and 16.3% from NAFTA and 12.9% from Columbia did not enjoy the duty free treatment granted by the respective FTAs.

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Some industry experts say the complex T&A rules of origin is a major factor why US T&A companies are not using FTAs enough. According to the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), there are more than 20 different tariff lines dealing with various T&A rule of origin situations under respective FTAs.

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Additionally, U.S. T&A importers seem to use the “short supply list” mechanism–an exception to the yarn forward rules of origin under FTAs, more actively. For example, in 2016 around 2.4% of US T&A imports under FTAs took advantage of the “short supply list” mechanism, increased from only 1.2% in 2008. Similarly, a record high of 6.2% of U.S. T&A imports under the CAFTA-DR used the short supply list in 2016.

Sheng Lu

International Trade, Globalization and the U.S. Economy: Discussion Questions Proposed by FASH455 Students

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The following questions are from students in FASH455 (Spring 2017). Please feel free to leave your comments and engage in our online discussion. Please mention the question # in your comment.

#1 Based on the readings, how do you see the relationship between “Made in the USA” and international trade today?

#2 What is your evaluation of President Trump’s proposal to levy 45% punitive tariffs on Chinese imports? Will the proposal bring back more jobs to the United States?

#3 It is said that globalization creates both winners and losers. From the readings, why do you agree or disagree with the statement?

#4 One of Donald Trump’s main campaign points was that he was going to bring jobs back to America and push for companies to move their factories out of countries such as Mexico and China. What role can international trade play in this effort?

#5 As we mentioned in the class, international trade is more than a purely economic issue. So what are the other non-economic impacts of trade? Can you provide any specific examples from the readings?

#6 As a result of globalization and trade, nature of the labor market is quickly changing, which has led to many workers without a college degree lost their jobs. In a market economy like the United States, is the government responsible for reeducating these workers or does the government bear no major responsibility?

#7 Is creating jobs in the United States a major responsibility for U.S. companies like Apple and Nike in today’s global economy? Why or why not?

Positions on Key Trade Issues: US Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) V.S. National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO)

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From left to right: Julia Hughes (president of USFIA), Auggie Tantillo (president & CEO of NCTO) and Robert Antoshak (Managing Director of Olah Inc., moderator)

In a panel discussion hosted by Kingpins on February 9, 2017, Julia K. Hughes, President of the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), and Augustine Tantillo, President and Chief Executive of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) shared their respective perspectives on key trade issues facing the U.S. textile and apparel industry in 2017.

Trade and job creation in the United States

Julia Hughes: Discussion on the relationship of trade and jobs in the public is often misguided. We support U.S. manufacturing. But along the supply chain, from product development, sourcing, marketing to retailing, fashion brands and retailers have also created many well-paid non-manufacturing jobs in the United States. Study further shows that 70%-80% of the retail value of an imported clothing actually stays in the United States.

Auggie Tantillo: Pleased and excited to see the discussion on the possibility of bringing back/expanding manufacturing in the United States. Still the United States produces $65—70 billion worth of textiles annually, which support many manufacturing jobs in the sector.  The U.S. textile industry also makes around $2 billion investment annually (updating machines and equipment). We need to acknowledge the baseline value of manufacturing in the United States.  

Border Adjustment Tax(BAT)

Julia Hughes: BAT is a complicated issue. However, if the current BAT proposal is adopted, it will raise the retail price (meaning ordinary US consumers will have to pay more) and appreciate the U.S. dollar (meaning U.S. exports will get hurt). This is why USFIA along with 100+ companies and industry associations opposes any BAT.

Auggie Tantillo: NCTO strongly believes that updating the tax structure in the United States is long overdue. NCTO welcomes a serious look at the BAT proposal, since the United States is the only major economy in the world that does not adopt BAT. The United States doesn’t need to run such a high trade deficit. Instead, we need to make the tax structure supporting the U.S. manufacturing base.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Julia Hughes: NAFTA is 20 years’ old and it can be improved. However, raising import tax (tariff) is NOT a good idea. NAFTA supports the Western-Hemisphere supply chain, which is critical for the U.S. textile and apparel industry. We need to defend this supply chain.  

Auggie Tantillo: NAFTA works and benefits its members on all sides of the border, including the United States. NCTO supports the continuation of NAFTA as well as to update and modernize the agreement as necessary.

Yarn-forward Rules of Origin (RoO)

Julia Hughes: Apparel is a global industry and apparel supply chain needs to be nimble. The yarn-forward RoO prevents apparel companies and retailers from fully enjoying the duty-free benefits under a free trade agreement (FTA) since not always the FTA region makes the needed products or their textile components. Exceptions to the yarn-forward rules such as the trade preference level (TPL), provide necessary flexibility.  

Auggie Tantillo: The yarn-forward RoO has been a great success and we need to keep it (in existing and future trade agreements). The only things that need to be improved is the exception to the yarn-forward RoO (such as short supply list and trade preference level). RoO is supposed to keep benefits of a free trade agreement to its members only, yet these exceptions create loopholes and cause damages (to the U.S. textile industry).

On China

Julia Hughes: We need China, which still provides 40% of textiles and apparel consumed in the United States. It will be a disaster to trigger a trade war between the two countries.

Auggie Tantillo: We need to better help the Western-Hemisphere producers (in competing with textile and apparel made in China). China’s  40%+ market shares in the U.S. textile and apparel import market are not all based on its genuine competitiveness. Rather, China’s unfair trade practices such as IPR violation, government subsidy and unacceptable factory working conditions & environmental practices are of grave concerns.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Julia Hughes: TPP is not dead. On the other hand, countries around the world are actively negotiating new bilateral/regional free trade agreements. The United States doesn’t want to be left behind.

Auggie Tantillo: TPP is “in deep hibernation”, but trade agreement will never be really dead. It is still hopeful that TPP will come back later—but very likely to be in a different form, such as bilateral trade agreements. To be noted, many TPP members have already established bilateral/regional trade agreements with the United States.  

Discussion questions: 1) Why do you think Julia Hughes and Auggie Tantillo disagree on many trade issues? On which topics they actually agree with each other and why? 2) What’s your response to Julia Hughes and Auggie Tantillo’s comments on trade issues above? 3) Based on the panel discussion, why do you think textile and apparel companies need to care about trade policy? Please feel free to share your views.

Outlook 2017: Apparel Industry Issues in the Year Ahead

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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

New USCBC Study Suggests Overall Positive Impacts of China on the US economy

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Although the trade relationship with China is often blamed for causing job losses in the United States, a new study prepared for the U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC) by Oxford Economics suggests overall positive impacts of China on the US economy. According to the study:

  • China has grown to become the third-largest destination for American goods and services, only after Mexico and Canada. China purchased $165 billion in goods and services from the United States in 2015, representing 7.3 percent of all US exports and about 1 percent of total US economic output. By 2030, US exports to China are projected to rise to more than $520 billion annually.
  • The US-China trade relationship supports roughly 2.6 million jobs in the United States. Specifically, US exports to China directly and indirectly supported 8 million new jobs in 2015.
  • The reported gross US trade deficit with China is overstated and somehow misleading. As China has become an integral part of the global manufacturing supply chain, much of its exports are comprised of foreign-produced components delivered for final assembly in China. If the value of these imported components is subtracted from China’s exports, the US trade deficit with China is reduced by half, to about 1 percent of GDP—about the same as the US trade deficit with the European Union.
  • Additionally, “Made in China” lowered prices in the United States for consumer goods. As estimated, US consumer prices are 1 percent – 1.5 percent lower because of Chinese imports–trade with China saved each American household up to $850 in 2015. Given the fact that hourly labor costs in the textile industry were $2.65 in China in 2014 compared with $17.71 in the United States, the report argues that replacing Chinese imports of textiles and clothing with US manufactured products would significantly raise US consumer prices.

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In terms of the textile and apparel (T&A) sector, the report suggests that:

  • The rising U.S. import from China mostly represents China’s displacement of imports from other countries and regions: China has been squeezing out traditional apparel manufacturers such as Mexico, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
  • Meanwhile, textile and apparel manufacturing is one of the very few sectors that observe a paralleled pattern of rising imports from China and declining gross value added in the United States since 2000. In comparison, over the same period other sectors that experienced the most rapid growth in Chinese imports are also the sectors where US businesses have seen the strongest growth.

The report can be downloaded from HERE.