World clothing export growth in 2012 is predicted to be even slower in volume terms than the already modest 5% growth rate seen in 2011, a new report says.

In value terms, world exports of clothing grew by 17% in 2011, which represented by far the fastest rise for at least 20 years, according to research published by Textiles Intelligence. As a result, exports reached a record high of US$412bn.

However, the rise was due largely to increases in unit prices. These increases were, in turn, due partly to sharp hikes in production costs - primarily in low cost Asian countries where energy costs and labour costs have increased substantially - and partly to the surge in cotton prices which occurred between March 2009 and March 2011.

Exports from as many as 12 of the 15 largest exporting countries increased at double-digit rates in value terms in 2011.

The fastest growth rates were in exports from Southeast Asian and South Asian countries, notably Cambodia (up by 33%), India (up by 31%), Bangladesh (up by 27%), Vietnam (also up by 27%) and Sri Lanka (up by 21%).

In the first few months of 2012, however, there was a slowdown in export growth from almost all of the major exporting countries. Furthermore, data for imports into the USA and the EU - the world's two largest clothing import markets - reveal falls in the first half of the year.

Looking ahead, there is little hope of trade picking up in the EU, given the continuing eurozone crisis and forecasts suggesting that GDP in the region is set to fall during the year.

Nevertheless, world export growth is expected to be sustained in value terms as energy and labour costs in the main Asian producing countries continue to spiral, and producers seek to recover increases in their costs by putting up their prices.

One factor which will drive up costs is continuing strike action in certain countries as workers demand living wages, spurred on by human rights activists.

'Trade and trade policy: the world's leading clothing exporters and key markets' is published by Textiles Intelligence in issue No 18 of Global Apparel Markets.