Report: Global Trade Steady Since End of Quotas

Study finds shifting fortunes among countries.

GENEVA — The end of quotas three years ago hasn’t resulted in major disruptions to global textile and apparel trade, according to a study by the International Textiles & Clothing Bureau.

This story first appeared in the September 30, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Admittedly, post-quota developments have produced substantial shifts in export fortunes,” said the report by Geneva-based ITCB, representing industry in 26 developing countries that favor fewer trade restrictions. “Yet, it is now apparent that dire predictions proved ill-founded.”

The study noted, however, that it is still “early days in the adjustment process.”

Gains in U.S. and European Union imports in the last three years have been “slower” compared with the preceding decade, the report said. From 1995 to 2004, imports of apparel in the U.S. grew at an average of 8.9 percent annually, but in the three post-quota years, they have grown by 5.4 percent. In the EU, import growth advanced 10 percent in the decade before the elimination of quotas, but by 6.5 percent during the post-quota years.

The co-authors, ITCB executive director Munir Ahmad and analyst Dinora Diaz, noted that several developing countries that were projected to “fall victim to heightened competition have been holding their own or even increasing their share of the enlarged pie.”

For example, China posted sharp export growth to the U.S. and European Union, as did India, but at somewhat lower levels than predicted. The report said solid advances were also registered by smaller players that had been forecast to become major casualties in the post-quota era that began Jan. 1, 2005.

“In the U.S. market, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Haiti, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Jordan, Egypt, Peru and Pakistan all logged respectable rates of growth,” said the study.

Between the beginning of 2005 and the end of 2007, Bangladesh averaged growth rates, in value terms, to the U.S. of 15.6 percent, and an 11.9 percent expansion in volume, while Cambodia saw a 19.1 percent gain in value and a 9.7 percent volume increase. Indonesia posted a 17.1 percent rise in value of imports and an 8.4 percent gain in volume. Vietnam registered an 18.8 percent climb in value an 18.5 percent in volume.

But the ITCB conceded that some countries have found the going difficult and experienced stagnation or declines in annual apparel shipments to the U.S. This list includes: Guatemala, which was down 9 percent; Canada, off 21.8 percent, and Mexico, down 13.9 percent. Countries that are part of the African Growth & Opportunities Act trade preference program saw apparel imports fall 9 percent and the U.S. partners in the Central American Free Trade Agreement posted deceases in imports of 4.1 percent. Other places with notable falloffs in apparel shipments to the U.S. were Hong Kong, dropping 21.4 percent; South Korea, declining 31 percent, and Brazil, falling 25.6 percent.

The study said there are likely to be further shifts in fortunes, with the driving force being the “profound influence” government trade policy has had in shaping the direction of trade and investment in textiles and apparel. The large number of players in the industry worldwide and its history to respond “with agility and pace” to changes in the policy environment should not be underestimated, the report said.

Since the end of the quota regime, changes in trade policy have witnessed the temporary imposition of quotas on China, improvements in preferential access for Haiti and Peru to the U.S. market, new dispensations under CAFTA and Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization. Thanks to the U.S. qualifying industrial zones program, Jordan has seen apparel exports to the U.S. reach $1.2 billion in 2006.