GENEVA — The global trade in clothing grew by 4 percent last year, to reach $201 billion, according to a World Trade Organization study released last week. That represented a recovery from the 2 percent contraction in trade the previous year.

This story first appeared in the November 11, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

However, the recovery was not felt evenly around the world: Major exporters including China and Turkey saw strong growth in their apparel exports, while countries such as the U.S., Indonesia and South Korea recorded large contractions.

The 148-member WTO said it expected the world apparel trade this year to rise by about 3 percent.

Supachai Panitchpakdi, WTO director general, said the prospects of weaker trade growth reinforces the need for governments to get the stalled Doha round of global trade talks back on track.

The WTO chief said in a statement the world’s political leaders must focus their attention on the stalled talks “and demonstrate their willingness to spur the global economy through greater liberalization and more equitable trade rules.”

Major differences between rich and poor developing countries triggered the collapse of the talks during a WTO trade summit in September in Cancún, Mexico.

Taken as a bloc, the European Union kept a strong position in the apparel trade last year, with total exports up 4 percent from the previous year to $50.4 billion, giving it a 25.1 percent share of the global market. Those export numbers include exports from one EU member state to another. Considering only exports to non-EU states, the bloc’s exports would have been $23 billion.

Going nation-by-nation, the undisputed export leader was China, which saw its shipments rise 13 percent to $41.3 billion. It was followed by Hong Kong, which had $22.2 billion in exports.

No single EU state had exports exceeding China’s or Hong Kong’s.

Turkey, the world’s fourth-largest exporter, managed a 21 percent increase to $8 billion, while fifth-placed Mexico witnessed a 3 percent decline in exports to $7.75 billion.

The U.S., the world’s sixth-largest exporter, experienced a sharp 14 percent decline to $6 billion.

Other major exporters that posted declines included Indonesia, down 13.5 percent to $3.95 billion, and South Korea, down 14 percent to $3.69 billion.

Romania posted a striking increase, with exports up 17 percent to $3.25 billion.

The three major markets for clothing imports, the EU, the U.S. and Japan reported divergent results in 2002, the WTO report said, with EU imports up 5 percent, U.S. imports flat and Japanese imports down 8 percent.

Including intra-EU trade, that trade bloc had imports of $84.8 billion. Factoring out intra-EU trade, that number would be $51.2 billion.

The U.S.’s imports came to $66.7 billion, while Japan’s were $17.6 billion.

Last year, the WTO said, “China accounted for 78 percent of Japan’s imports of clothing from all sources.”

Reflecting the economic downturn, imports to Hong Kong contracted by 3 percent to $15.6 billion. Only $1.6 billion of Hong Kong’s apparel imports are retained, the rest are reexported.

South Korean clothing imports were up 33 percent to $2.17 billion. Russia’s rose 27 percent to $3.8 billion.

China’s apparel imports rose 6 percent to $1.36 billion.

The report also addressed the textile trade, which does not necessarily correspond with apparel because many countries import textiles, sew them into clothes and reexport them.

The EU exported $52 billion of textiles last year, up 1 percent. Factoring out intra-bloc exports, the EU nations exported $23 billion of textiles, making the bloc the world’s leading exporter.

China exported $20.5 billion of textiles, Hong Kong exported $12.3 billion worth and the U.S. shipped $10.7 billion worth.

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