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

Sourcing Trends of U.S. Fashion Companies: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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The following questions are proposed by students in FASH455 (Spring 2017) based on the 2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study. Please feel free to join the online discussion (please mention the question # in your comment).

#1 With many bricks and mortar stores closing and profits decreasing in many of these stores, why do you think that 92% of respondents are optimistic or somewhat optimistic about the fashion industry over the next five years? Do you believe that there is a technological advance or a change in organizational structure that is coming in the future that is keeping them hopeful?

#2 U.S. fashion companies today have a very diversified sourcing base. For example, overall 52% of respondents report sourcing from more than ten different countries. However, it seems quite challenging to ensure all the factories they are sourcing from are up to the company’s standards. Do you think with increased pressure to become more sustainable as well as have ethical working conditions across their supply chain, U.S. fashion companies will source from fewer countries in the future?

#3 According to the survey, controlling sourcing and production cost remains one of the top business challenges for U.S. fashion companies. Does it imply that it is unrealistic to expect companies to make commitments to sustainability and social responsibility at the sacrifice of their profit?

#4 U.S. apparel imports from Vietnam has been growing rapidly in recent years. Why do you think Vietnam has been able to expand as a garment exporter so quickly, outperforming most of its Asian competitors?

#5 As optimism continues to create new demand for human talent, more specifically for fashion designers, buyers and merchandisers, sourcing specialists, and social compliance specialists how can the fashion department at the University of Delaware further prepare us to excel at these positions? Any specific suggestions?

#6 What other sourcing and trade topics do you think the benchmarking study could include?

State of the U.S. Textile and Apparel Industry: Output, Employment and Trade (Updated March 2017)

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The size of the U.S. textile and apparel industry has significantly shrunk over the past decades. However, U.S. textile manufacturing is gradually coming back. Value added of U.S. textile manufacturing reached $17.98 billion in 2015, which was the highest level since 2009.

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Nevertheless, the share of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped to only 0.16% in 2015 from 0.57% in 1998.

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The U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing is also changing in nature. For example, textiles had accounted for nearly 70% of the total output of the U.S. textile and apparel industry as of 2015, up from 58% in 1998. Meanwhile, clothing had only accounted for 12% of the total U.S. fiber production by 2012, suggesting non-apparel textile products, such as industrial textiles and home textiles have become more important part of the industry.

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Manufacturing jobs are NOT coming back to the U.S. textile and apparel industry. From January 2015 to December 2016, U.S. textile manufacturing (NAICS 313 and 314) and apparel manufacturing (NAICS 315) lost 8,300 and 9,200 jobs respectively. However, improved productivity is one important factor behind the job losses.

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U.S. remains a net textile exporter and a net apparel importer. However, the U.S. trade surplus in textiles significantly dropped to only $68 million in 2016 from $347 million a year earlier. More U.S.-made textiles are now exported than a decade ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit in apparel reached $81,754 million in 2016, which was slightly smaller than $86,311 million a year earlier.  

Sheng Lu

Additional readings:  The Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports

Discussion questions:

#1 Is the state of the U.S. textile and apparel industry consistent with the stage of development theory? Please specify your answer.

#2 Based on the statistics, do you think textile and apparel “Made in the USA” have a future? Please explain.

#3 Based on the statistics, what is the impact of trade on the development of the U.S. textile and apparel industry: positive, negative, mixed or you need more information (please specify) to evaluate?

#4 Overall, do you think the U.S. textile and apparel industry is in good shape? Why or why not?

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.

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

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

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

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

Full report of the survey is available HERE.

Made in the USA Textiles and Apparel:Facts and Future

The presentation is the outcome of Jillian Luetje‘s honor project in FASH455 (Fall 2016). In the project, Jillian explored the facts and future of “Made in USA” textile and apparel based on her research of existing literature and interviews with U.S. trade officials. The presentation intends to help the audience (especially those new to the area of textile and apparel trade and trade policy) have a basic understanding of the topic.  

Key findings:

  • Textile and apparel manufacturing in the USA is NOT totally gone.
  • The U.S. textile industry in particular relies on the Western Hemisphere supply chain and related free trade agreements
  • Made in the USA apparel is not going to increase any time soon.

Welcome for any comments and suggestions!