Historical Benefits of Trade

Interview with Dr. Douglas A. Irwin on the historical benefits of trade

Minute 1’53s: What’s wrong with the view that trade is a zero-sum game.

Minute 4’50s: A review of the concept of comparative advantage by using the textile and apparel industry as an example.

Minute 7’30s: What is trade protectionism?

Minute 9’02s: Why did the United States brace the idea of free trade after WWII and push forward the establishment of the multilateral trading system GATT?

Minute 10’30s: what drives the U.S. trade deficit from the economic perspective?

Minute 15’57s: international trade and U.S. apparel manufacturing jobs

Minute 22’15s: Is TPP a dead deal?

Minute 27’56s: What should Trump do about trade policy?

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.

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?

FASH455 Discussion: Trade and Development

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#1 Why do you think the Indian girls from rural villages chose to leave their home for the new garment factory jobs in the city? Overall, was it a right choice for them?

#2 Were the Indian girls happy about their jobs in the garment factory? Why or why not?

#3 How do you compare your life to the Indian girls in the article? And please just imagine: ten years later, what will the life of these Indian girls look like? How about yours?

#4 How do you think these young girls feel about giving up their old lives for a shot at a new one? Do you believe that it would be hard to give up your customs and ways of life to try and give yourself a different future than the people you are used to? Do you think it’s hard for many families in Prabhati and Sashi’s village to accept the path they have taken instead of a traditional one?

#5 Do you think owners of the garment factory treated the Indian girls “fairly” according to the article? Why or why not? Please also briefly explain your benchmark for fairness.

Please mention the question # in your comment.

 

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?

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

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.