Impact of the Sino-US trade war and an Act on China's cotton apparel exports

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The U.S. act fabricated the so-called “forced labor” issue in China’s Xinjiang on Dec 23. The Act deduced all products produced in Xinjiang as so-called “forced labor” products, and forbade the import of products related to Xinjiang. Xinjiang is the largest high-quality cotton production base in China and an important producer of the crop in the world. 90% of the cotton in China is produced in Xinjiang, and there are many cotton practitioners in Xinjiang. On Dec 25, the China Cotton Association issued a “statement strongly condemning the US Government for suppressing China’s cotton textile industry under the guise of ‘human rights’.”

 

China’s cotton apparel exports declined

 

China is a big producer and consumer of cotton. Since 2013, the proportion of China’s cotton knitted and woven apparel exports in knitted and woven apparel exports has gradually declined, from 41% in 2013 to around 38% in 2019. It dropped again to 36% in Jan-Oct 2022, which showed that the export share of cotton knitted and woven apparel in China declined obviously. In terms of growth rate, the exports only inched up in 2016, 2017 and Jan-Oct 2022, with negative growth in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019, especially in 2015.

Therefore, the export of cotton apparel in China was not ideal in recent years, both the proportion and the absolute volume of exports somewhat declined. The Sino-US trade war and the news that the United States will impose sanctions on cotton products in Xinjiang have accelerated the transfer of overseas orders, and some cotton orders have flowed to other markets to avoid risks. It will be a trend in the future. The pandemic in 2020 slowed down the progress of order transfer, but it will continue in the post-pandemic period. In Jan-Oct 2022, China’s export volume of cotton knitted apparel rose by 2.5% over 2019, achieving a slight increase.

 

China’s cotton textile and apparel exports to US dropped

 

The news that the United States will impose sanctions on cotton products in Xinjiang has been for a long time, and the Chinese market players are also stepping up their efforts. Chinese manufacturers use imported cotton yarn, imported cotton or other fibers to avoid risks. So what are the changes in the import of US cotton products and that from China in recent years?

US cotton textile and apparel import volume has been in a negative growth phase for most of the time since 2008, with positive growth only in 2013, 2015, 2018 and 2022 (up 28% year-on-year, up 23% from China), indicating that its weakening demand has occurred before the Sino-US trade war and the sanction. The trade war and some policies accelerated it. The proportion of US cotton textile and apparel import gradually declined, accounting for less than 1/4 of the total this year, while the proportion of cotton textile and apparel from China was only around 13% (20.5% in 2016, 19.1% in 2017, 18.6% in 2018, and 13.1% in Jan-Oct 2022). It can be seen that even without the Sino-US trade war and the sanction, the share of China will decline. This has a lot to do with the expansion of chemical fiber production capacity and the gradual decline of the competitiveness of China’s cotton products. Regardless of the increase of other products on cotton textile and apparel market share, purely from the perspective of cotton textile and apparel competitiveness, the main origins are gradually changing.  

  

From the absolute import, it can be seen that the US cotton textile and apparel import from China experienced a stage of rapid expansion, then slowly declined, and began to decline more significantly in 2018, while the volume from ASEAN has been rising. Another one is that from India, which has rose evidently in recent years and has been approaching ASEAN this year; while that from Pakistan has experienced rise to decline, which has been relatively stable in recent years. It is also worth noting that that from Bangladesh was on the increase. It can be seen that China’s cotton textile and apparel market share has been decreased while the share of ASEAN, Pakistan and Bangladesh, especially India has increased obviously.

Although the competitiveness of China’s cotton textile and apparel has gradually declined, the Sino-US trade war and the sanction on Xinjiang cotton have accelerated it. The consumption of the United States is growing rapidly this year, and the cotton textile and apparel volume from China is also growing, but it is still declining in terms of market share, so the international competition of China’s cotton products is becoming increasingly fierce and order loss may happen.