Are Textile and Apparel “Made in China” Losing Competitiveness in the U.S. Market?

The following analysis is from the latest Just-Style Op-ed Is China Losing Its Edge as a US Apparel Supplier.

A fact-checking review of trade statistics in 2016 of a total 167 categories of T&A products categorized by the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) suggests that textile and apparel (T&A) “Made in China” have no near competitors in the U.S. import market. Specifically, in 2016:

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  • Of the total 11 categories of yarn, China was the top supplier for 2 categories (or 18%);
  • Of the total 34 categories of fabric, China was the top supplier for 25 categories (or 74%);
  • Of the total 106 categories of apparel, China was the top supplier for 88 categories (or 83%);
  • Of the total 16 categories of made-up textiles, China was the top supplier for 12 categories (or 68%);

In comparison, for those Asian T&A suppliers regarded as China’s top competitors:

  • Vietnam was the top supplier for only 5 categories of apparel (less than 5% of the total);
  • Bangladesh was the top supplier for only 2 categories of apparel (less than 2% of the total)
  • India was the top supplier for 2 categories of fabric (9% of the total), one category of apparel (1% of the total) and 5 categories of made-up textiles (41.7% of the total)

part II

Notably, China not only was the top supplier for many T&A products but also held a lion’s market shares. For example, in 2016:

  • For the 34 categories of fabric that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 41%, 23 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories
  • For the 88 categories of apparel that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 53%, 38 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.
  • For the 16 categories of made-up textiles that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 57%, 40 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.

It is also interesting to see that despite the reported rising labor cost, T&A “Made in China” are NOT becoming more expensive. On the contrary, the unit price of U.S. T&A imports from China in 2016 was 6.8% lower than a year earlier, whereas over the same period the unit price for U.S. T&A imports from rest of the world only declined by 2.9%.

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Furthermore, T&A “Made in China” are demonstrating even bigger price competitiveness compared with other suppliers to the U.S. market. For example, in 2016, the unit price of “Made China” was only 78% of the price of “Made in Vietnam” (in 2012 was 89%), 88% of “Made in Bangladesh” (in 2012 was 100%), 86% of “Made in Mexico” (in 2012 was 103%) and 72% of “Made in India” (in 2012 was 81%).

Are the results surprising? How to explain China’s demonstrated price competitiveness despite its reported rising labor cost? What’s your outlook for the future of China as a sourcing destination for U.S. fashion brands and retailers? Please feel free to share your views.

Pattern of U.S. Textile and Apparel Imports (Updated: September 2016)

textile and apparel imports 2015

U.S. textile and apparel imports enjoy steady growth from 2000 to 2015. Specifically, the value of U.S. textile imports reached $26,763 million in 2015, up 4.2 percent from 2014 and 85.1 percent from 2000. The value of U.S. apparel imports reached $85,165 million in 2015, up 4.1 percent from 2014 and 48.8 percent from 2000.  It is forecasted that the value of U.S. textile and apparel imports could reach $27,355 million (up 2.2 percent) and $85,719 million (up 0.7 percent) respectively in 2016.

product structure

Because the United States is no longer a major apparel manufacturer but one of the largest apparel consumption markets in the world, apparel products accounted for 76.1 percent of total U.S. textile and apparel imports in 2015, followed by made-up textiles (16.9 percent), fabrics (5.8 percent) and yarns (1.3 percent).

top supplier

In terms of source of products, U.S. imported apparel from as many as 150 countries in 2015. However, Herfindahl index reached 0.15 for knitted apparel (HS chapter 61) and 0.18 for woven apparel (HS chapter 62) in 2015, suggesting this is a market with a high concentration of supplying countries. Specifically, all top apparel suppliers to the United States in 2015 (by value) are developing countries and most of them are located in Asia, including China (35.9 percent), Vietnam (12.4 percent), Bangladesh (6.3 percent), Indonesia (5.8 percent), India (4.3 percent) and Mexico (4.2 percent).

price

U.S. textile and apparel imports are also becoming even cheaper. For example, U.S. apparel imports in 2015 on average was only 85.7 percent of the price in 1990 and the price of imported fabrics cut almost by half over the same period.

fast growing categories

From 2013 to 2015, the fastest growing textile and apparel import categories unusually include several fabric products, such as blue denim (OTEXA code 225, up 74.8%), Cheesecloths (OTEXA code 226, up 74.3%) and woven fabrics (OTEXA code 611, up 49.3%).  It is likely that the growing business of apparel “Made in USA” has led to an increased demand for imported fabrics.  

growth rate

Additionally, U.S. apparel imports overall mirror the pattern of apparel retail sales in the U.S. market. This reflects the fact that the performance of the U.S. economy is the leading factor shaping the size of demand for imported apparel. It is also interesting to note that the value of U.S. apparel imports grew at a faster rate than the value of U.S. apparel retail sales in 2015 (4.1 percent v.s. 1.7 percent), suggesting import penetration ratio (i.e. the percentage of apparel consumed in the United States that is supplied by imports) continues to rise.

Data source: Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), U.S. Department of Commerce

by Sheng Lu

Vietnam’s Apparel Exports Slow in First Half of 2016

Growth rate of Vietnam

According to Thanh Nien News, Vietnam’s textile and apparel (T&A) exports only increased 5.1 percent to $10.7 billion in the first half of 2016. This was the lowest growth rate since 2010. Data from the General Statistics Office of Vietnam shows that Vietnam’s T&A exports totaled $22.63 million in 2015, up 8.2 percent from a year earlier.

In the U.S. market, apparel imports from Vietnam also see a much slower growth in the first five months of 2016: 4.1% by value (compared with 13.1% on average between 2010 and 2015) and 5.0% by quantity (compared with 11.8% on average between 2010 and 2015).

Vietnam

The new trade data echos the findings in the latest 2016 US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study. Although Vietnam remains one of the top sourcing destinations, respondents seem to be more conservative about Vietnam’s growth potential in the next two years. Only 4 percent of respondents expect a strong increase of sourcing value or volume from the country, which is a substantial drop from 21.4 percent in the 2015 study.

Mexican New Import Rules on Textiles and Apparel Raise Concerns

mexicanclothes

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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