Global Textile and Apparel Exports by Income Groups (2000-2015)

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As of 2015, over 40% of textile exports still come from high income countries. Meanwhile, upper middle income countries are quickly expanding exports and gaining more market shares from 2000 to 2015. However, textile exports from low income countries remain minimal.

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From 2000 to 2015, shares of apparel exports from high income countries dropped from 50% to 31%. Meanwhile, market shares of upper middle income countries increased from 32% to 46%. However, low income countries are becoming even more marginalized in apparel exports: their market shares slipped from 0.3% in 2000 to only 0.1% in 2015.

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Additionally, textile and apparel exports in general are economically more important for lower income countries than higher income countries. However, the percentage of textile and apparel in a country’s total merchandise exports seem to be declining across all income groups except for low-income countries.  Meanwhile, for a good number of low-income and lower-middle income countries such as Bangladesh, Gambia, Pakistan and Cambodia, textile and apparel remain one of their very few exporting opportunities.

Data source: World Trade Organization (2017), World Bank (2017); Country list (by income groups) can be found HERE

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Sheiron Crawford for assisting the data collection.

Debate on Used-clothing Trade, Sustainable Development Strategy and Wage Level in the Garment Industry: Discussion Questions from FASH455

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Debate on used-clothing trade and strategy for building a sustainable garment industry

#1 Should countries in East Africa ban on imported used-clothing for the survival of its own apparel manufacturing industry, which is at the nascent stage of development?

#2 From an environmental sustainability standpoint, wouldn’t it make sense for East Africa to continue importing used clothes for their Mitumba wholesale center rather than ceasing this trade and manufacturing new clothes? What is your view?

#3 If clothing manufacturing has significantly helped Haiti grow its economy, should East African countries follow the same development path?

#4 The reading article says that trade agreements have extended Haiti’s duty free access to the United States until 2020. What might happen to Haiti’s garment exports after 2020? Can it survive? In your view, is Haiti’s garment industry a model for sustainable development?

#5 Why is the United States willing to offer duty free access for apparel made in Haiti but not made in other Asian countries, such as Bangladesh? Is it fair?

Debate on Wage level of garment workers

#6 Garment manufacturing and exporting are picking up Haiti’s economy, although most Haitian garment workers only make roughly $180-$200 per month. Meanwhile, Haiti is looking to attract retailers’ further investment. Given the fact that there are so many places in the world that retailers can source clothing from, will an increase of wage level drive away foreign investment in Haiti and negatively affect Hait’s garment exports?

#7 If consumers are willing to pay higher, will it help increase the wages of factory workers in developing countries? Or as consumers, we can do little about it?

#8 Should globalization be responsible for the low wage of garment workers in the developing countries? Without globalization, would garment workers in the developing countries live a better life?

[Please feel free to join our online discussion. For the purpose of convenience, please mention the question # in your reply/comment.]

Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program: An Overview

In the class, we briefly introduced the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which has played a critical role in the past decades both financially helping trade-displaced workers and tactically facilitating trade liberalization agendas in U.S. trade policy.

Rationale and purpose of TAA

It is widely acknowledged that trade liberalization can benefit consumers and create new market-access opportunities for export-oriented firms. However, expanded trade may also exert negative and often concentrated effects on domestic industries and workers that face increased import competition. Freer trade is not entirely free, but bears the cost of economic adjustment. TAA program therefore is designed to provide readjustment assistance to firms and workers that suffer dislocation (job loss) due to foreign competition or offshoring. To be noted, TAA has been a significant tool to assist workers in the U.S. textile and apparel industry.

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According to official statistics, since 1974, 2.2 million American workers have benefited from the TAA program, which provides workers with opportunities to obtain the skills, credentials, resources, and support they need to obtain good jobs in an in-demand occupation — and keep them. TAA was last authorized in June 2015 to continue through June 30, 2021.

Eligibility for TAA

To be eligible for TAA, petitioning workers must establish that foreign trade contributed importantly to their loss of employment. The role of foreign trade can be established in one of several ways:

  •  An increase in competitive imports: The sales or production of the petitioning firm have decreased absolutely and imports of articles or services like or directly competitive with those produced by the petitioning firm have increased.
  • A shift in production to a foreign country: The workers’ firm has moved production of the articles or services that the petitioning workers produced to a foreign country or the firm has acquired, from a foreign provider, articles or services that are directly competitive with those produced by the workers.
  • Adversely affected secondary workers: The petitioning firm is a supplier or a downstream producer to a TAA-certified firm and either (1) the sales or production for the TAA-certified firm accounted for at least 20% of the sales or production of the petitioning firm or (2) a loss of business with a TAA-certified firm contributed importantly to the workers’ job losses.

Additionally, workers who lost jobs from firms that have been publicly identified by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) as injured by a market disruption (for example, in anti-dumping, countervailing duty or safeguard cases) or other qualified action can also submit TAA petition.

Workers’ Benefits under TAA

TAA benefits for individual workers include:

  • Training and reemployment services and income support for workers who have exhausted their unemployment compensation benefits and are enrolled in training.
  • Workers age 50 and over may participate in the Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance (RTAA) wage insurance program.
  • Certified workers may also be eligible for a tax credit for a portion of the premium costs for qualified health insurance.

Financial Cost of TAA

TAA is financially covered by the federal government (i.e. taxpayers’ money) through annual appropriations. Appropriations for the program in FY2016 were $861 million, of which $450 million was for training and reemployment services and the remaining $411 million was for income support and other activities.

Role of TAA in U.S. trade policy

TAA is “presented as an alternative to policies that would restrict imports, and so provides assistance while bolstering freer trade and diminishing prospects for potentially costly tension (retaliation) among trade partners.”(Hornbeck, 2013)

Back in 1992, newly elected President Clinton oversaw the implementation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but did so only after a number of conditions were attached, including TAA. In 2002, President Bush and the Republicans pushed hard to renew the long-expired trade promotion authority (TPA), but Democrats were unwilling to provide it unless TAA was reauthorized. TAA was also directly linked to the passage of three free trade agreements (FTAs) by US Congress in 2011, including US-Korea, US-Columbia and US-Panama FTAs.

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Concerns about TAA

Critics strongly debate the merits of TAA on equity, efficiency, and budgetary grounds:

  • Economic efficiency: some critics argue that economic efficiency was far from guaranteed given that subsidies can operate to reduce worker and firm incentives to relocate, take lower-paying jobs and in other ways to carryout necessary reform.
  • Equity: some critics argue that because many economic groups hurt by changing economic circumstances caused by other than trade policies were not afforded similar economic assistance (for example, domestic competition and technology advancement). For the sake of fairness, if society has a responsibility to help all those dislocated by economic change, then policies should not be narrowly restricted to trade-related harm only.
  • Administrative cost: it is argued by some economists that defining and measuring injury from tariff reduction would be inexact, if not arbitrary. Some studies also suggest that many firms, even smaller ones, could adjust on their own, and that workers could just as well rely on more broadly available unemployment and retraining programs. In addition, the high costs of TAA would dilute political support for the program.

Reference:

Collins, B. (2016). Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers and the TAA Reauthorization Act of 2015, Congressional Research Service, R44153

Hornbeck, J.F. (2013).Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and Its Role in U.S. Trade Policy, Congressional Research Service, R41922

Q&A for International Trade Theories

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Q1: How mercantilism and the absolute advantage theory see international trade differently?

Mercantilism believes everything shall be produced domestically and maximizing exports & minimizing imports is the best route to national prosperity.

Instead, absolute advantage theory believes countries should specialize in what they do best (means making a product cheaper, better and faster) while trading with other countries who are also doing what they’re best at. With specialization and free trade, all countries can end up consuming more products than in the absence of trade.  

Q2: What are the similarities and differences between the absolute advantage theory and the comparative advantage theory?

Similarities:

  • Both theories believe any economy has limited resources and there will be opportunity cost for making any product. Opportunity cost refers to the loss of potential gain from making one product because of choosing to make another product.
  • Both theories believe countries should specialize in production (rather than making everything by itself as suggested by the mercantilism).
  • Both theories also support free trade (rather than intentionally maximizing exports and minimizing imports as suggested by the mercantilism).

Differences:

  • According to the absolute advantage theory, countries can only specialize in producing and exporting products that they can make absolutely cheaper, better and faster than other nations. Whereas according to the comparative advantage theory, countries should specialize in producing and exporting products that they have relatively bigger advantages or relatively smaller disadvantages [i.e. a country should choose to make and export products with a lower opportunity cost].
  • Developed countries like the US may enjoy absolute advantages over a less developed country such as Haiti, for ALL products. However, a country CANNOT enjoy comparative advantages for ALL products it makes: there will always be some products that a country has bigger advantages or smaller disadvantages in making compared with other nations.
  • According to the absolute advantage theory, least developed countries (LDCs) may not be able to export any products (because they may not have absolute advantages in making any products over developed countries). However, according to the comparative advantage theory, even LDCs can export to developed countries— for those products that LDCs suffer relatively smaller disadvantages in making. Meanwhile, developed countries can focus on making products they enjoy relatively bigger absolute advantages over LDCs. As the example demonstrated in class, with specialization based on comparative advantages and free trade, all countries still can end up consuming more products than in the absence of trade.

Q3: What is the contribution of the factor proportion theory?

Although the comparative advantage theory illustrates how nations should specialize in producing and exporting, it failed to explain what shapes a nation’s comparative advantages. Factor proportion theory answered the question: comparative advantage depends on countries’ relative endowment of factors of production. The country which is relatively abundant in labor will have a comparative advantage in the production of relatively labor intensive goods. The nation which is relatively capital abundant will have a comparative advantage in the production of the relatively capital intensive goods. Surely, factor proportion theory supports everything proposed by the comparative advantage theory, especially the argument that with specialization based on comparative advantages and free trade, all countries can end up consuming more products than in the absence of trade.

Q4: Why most apparel consumed in the U.S. are imported from developing countries?

Because generally developing countries enjoy comparative advantages in making clothing whereas US enjoys comparative advantages in making more capital and technology intensive products such as machinery. To be noted, it doesn’t mean US necessarily makes clothing less productive and more expensive than most developing countries. Just economically it is wiser for the US as a capital abundant country to make more capital  intensive products so as to maximize the gains from using its limited resources.

Q5: Why top U.S. apparel suppliers in the 1980s (Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea) are different from today (China, Vietnam and Bangladesh)? How to explain this phenomenon?

In the 1980s, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea had comparative advantages in making clothing on the basis of their relatively abundant supply of cheap labor back then. However, with the gradual growth of economies and accumulation of capital, these countries/regions start to have more capital relative to labor. As a result, their comparative advantages shift from making labor-intensive clothing to more capital-intensive products such as electronics and machinery. Likewise, once China, Vietnam and Bangladesh become more capital abundant, they may also lose comparative advantages in making labor-intensive clothing to other less-developed economies where cheap labor is more abundant relative to capital.  

CRS Releases Updated Study on the U.S. Textile Industry and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

crs-reportOn September 1, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released its updated study on the U.S. textile industry and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). According to the report:

First, TPP is suggested to have a limited impact on U.S. domestic textile and apparel manufacturing, because:

1) Automation rather than imports is found to be the top factor causing job losses in the U.S. textile industry in the past decade;

2) U.S. is one of the very few TPP members whose textile output mostly went into home textiles, floor coverings and other technical textile products rather than apparel.

3) More than 90% of apparel sold in the United States is already imported. Some companies maintain U.S. manufacturing of high-value products or products requiring quick delivery, which are not likely to be supplied by other TPP members.

4) A quantitative assessment conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in May also suggests that U.S. imports of textiles will only climb 1.6% by 2032 if TPP enters into force in 2017. Over the same 15-year period, both output and employment in the U.S. textile industry could slightly shrink by 0.4% as a result of the implementation of TPP.

Second, TPP could challenge the Western-Hemisphere supply chain and negatively affect U.S. textile exports to the region:

1) TPP will make apparel manufacturers located in Mexico and Central America lose one important advantage—duty free access to the U.S. market, when competing with Asian TPP members such as Vietnam and Malaysia.  The Central American-Dominican Republic Apparel and Textile Council also estimates the CAFTA-DR region could see a contraction of 15%-18% in industrial employment resulting from lost production orders in the first year after the TPP agreement is implemented.

2) The major products sourced by U.S. apparel companies from the Western Hemisphere region include basic, low-value knitwear garments such as shirts, pants, underwear, and nightwear, with a focus on men’s and boys’ wear. However, these products are with low time sensitivity but high price sensitivity, meaning Asian TPP members can easily offer a more competitive price and take away sourcing orders after the implementation of TPP.  

3) Because of physical distance and abundance of local supply, leading Asian TPP apparel exporters such as Vietnam seldom use US-made yarns and fabrics. Supported by foreign investments, Vietnam is also quickly building up its own textile manufacturing capacity, which is expected to reach 2 million metric tons for fabrics and 650,000 metric tons for fibers by 2020. This implies that TPP may help little creating new export markets for US textile products, despite the restrictive yarn forward rules of origin.

Additionally, TPP could result in intensified competition in the technical textile area, which is of strategic importance to the future of the U.S. textile industry:

1) If the proposed agreement is implemented, those segments of the U.S. textile industry that supply industrial textiles are likely to face greater competition from rising imports from Japan.

2) TPP will allow Japanese industrial textiles to newly get duty free access to Mexico and Canada, which are the largest export markets for U.S. industrial fabrics in 2015. However, TPP won’t help US companies get more favorable access to China, which is the top export market for Japanese industrial fabrics.

2016 August Sourcing at Magic Debriefing

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New landscape of sourcing

  • Sourcing is turning from regional to global. In the past, U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands set up regional offices to handle sourcing. Nowadays, companies are building a global infrastructure to develop, source and market their products around world. Global rather than regional sourcing also allows companies to improve sourcing efficiency and reduce total product and distribution cost while maintaining quality of their product and services.
  • U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are going with fewer but more capable vendors (“super vendors”). For example, executive from a leading U.S. apparel brand said their company has shrunk their sourcing base by 40% in the past few years. At the same time, they now expect their vendors to be able to supply on a global scale, including having multiple manufacturing facilities around the world and being able to provide value added services such as design and product development.
  • Related, sourcing is shifting from cut-make-and trim (CMT) to full package. This is consistent with our findings in the latest USFIA benchmarking study which suggests that vendors are highly expected to have the capacity of supplying raw material.
  • U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are also investing to build a more partnership-based relationship with vendors— help vendors reduce cost, become more innovative and have the same vision looking at the whole picture of the supply chain. At the same time, U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands see vendors as their “ambassadors” and want to know more about them—what they believe, what they can bring to the table and how they treat their workers.
  • Companies are redefining the role of sourcing in their businesses. Sourcing is no longer treated as a technical function, but an integral part of a company’s overall business strategy.  

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Made in USA

  • There is a noticeable interest in sourcing textiles and apparel “Made in USA” at Magic. A dozen U.S.-based apparel companies attended the Magic show and their booths attracted a heavy traffic. According to representatives from these companies, U.S. consumers’ increased demand for apparel “Made in USA” has been a strong support for their business growth in recent years.
  • Nevertheless, apparel “Made in USA” often contain imported inputs today. I specifically asked a few vendors where their fabrics come from. All but one company said fabrics were imported because it was so hard to find domestic suppliers, especially for woven fabrics. Interesting enough, some companies feel OK to label their apparel “Made in USA” even though they use imported fabrics. According to them, apparel can be labeled “Made in USA” as long as “domestic content exceeds 60% of the value of the finished product.”
  • At a seminar, some entrepreneurs which make and sell “Made in USA” apparel and accessories said price and production cost remain one of their top business challenges. I asked the panel whether going high-end is the only option for the future of apparel “Made in USA” given the high labor cost in the country. They disagreed—saying technology advancement and design innovation could help reduce production cost. However, all panelists admit they carry some luxury product lines. Additionally, some companies choose to emphasize concepts other than “Made in USA”, such as “hand-made” and “Pride in Seattle”, in order to make their products look more personal to consumers and allow more flexibility in sourcing raw material.

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Updates of sourcing destinations

  • Ethiopia: as I observe, Ethiopia is THE star at this year’s Sourcing at Magic. The country was repeatedly mentioned by panelists at various seminars as a promising and emerging sourcing destination. Several events at the show were also exclusively dedicated to promoting apparel and footwear “Made in Ethiopia”. A couple of reasons why Ethiopia is so “hot”: 1) the ten year extension of AGOA creates a stable market environment encouraging sourcing from Africa and investing in the region (and for sure the duty free access both to the US and EU market).  2) Located in the middle of Africa, Ethiopia is regarded as a hub that has the potential to take a leadership role in integrating the apparel supply chain in the region. 3) It is said that Ethiopian government is very supportive to the development of the local textile industry.  4) Many U.S. fashion companies feel sourcing from Ethiopia involves less risks of trade compliance than sourcing from some Asian countries such as Bangladesh.  
  • China: China unarguably remains the No.1 textile and apparel supplier to the U.S. market—in terms of numbers, around 60% vendors at the Magic show came from China. But I notice that booths of Chinese vendors didn’t have much traffic this time, an interesting signal for sourcing trend in the upcoming season. Nevertheless, while U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands are placing more emphasis on supply chain efficiency, quality of products, speed to market and added value in sourcing, “Made in China” will continue to enjoy many unique advantages over other suppliers. Plus, Chinse factories are actively investing overseas, from Southeast Asian countries to Africa. This makes Chinese factories likely to grow into “super vendors” that western fashion brands/retailers are looking for. To certain extent, macro trade statistics alone may not be able to fully reveal what is going on in apparel sourcing and trade.   
  • Vietnam: Regarding the future of Vietnam as a sourcing destination for U.S. apparel companies/fashion brands, somehow I hear more concerns than excitements at Magic. The uncertainty surrounding the ratification of TPP by the U.S. Congress definitely has made some companies hold back their investment and sourcing plan in Vietnam. Another big concern is Vietnam’s labor shortage and limited manufacturing capacity: apparel factories in Vietnam are already competing with electronic industry for young skilled workers. US companies also have to compete with their EU counterparts for orders in Vietnam. The newly reached EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which is very likely to be implemented earlier than TPP, provides Vietnam duty free access also to the EU market. And EVFTA adopts a much more flexible rule of origin than TPP, making it easier for Vietnam factories to actually use the agreement.

Sustainability

The awareness of social responsibility and sustainability has much improved: everyone in the industry is talking about them and have a view on them. On a voluntary basis, some companies are making efforts to improve traceability of their products, i.e. to help consumers know exactly where their clothing comes from and what is happening at the upstream of the supply chain. Yet, how to encourage factories to share their information and control tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers remain a challenge. 

by Sheng Lu

Note: Sourcing at Magic is one of the largest and most influential annual textile and apparel sourcing events hosted in the United States. Special thanks to the Center for Global and Areas Studies at the University of Delaware for funding the trip.

WTO Reports World Textile and Apparel Trade in 2015

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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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