Chinas share in EU clothing imports fell to 35% last year

China's share in EU clothing imports fell to 35% last year

China's share of the value of EU clothing imports has declined steadily over the last five years to the benefit of south Asian countries, particularly in lower-end products, according to new data. 

The leading position of China has continued to be eroded by the increasingly vigorous entry of the other production zones, according to a European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex) bulletin. In 2010, China's market share of EU textiles and clothing imports stood at 40.8%. However, this had fallen to 35% by 2015.

"The tendency for China seemed to be more and more textile exports whose production was facilitated by more sophisticated and productive machinery, at the expense of garments which are much more labour intensive," Euratex explains. 

The main beneficiary was the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) zone – Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – which has gone in the opposite direction to China since 2010. From 19% in 2010, its market share of textiles and clothing imports rose to 24.6% in 2015. The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) zone, which is smaller than the SAARC area, showed enough drive and economic dynamism to grow its share of textile and clothing imports from 6% in 2010 to 8.6% in 2015.

The Mediterranean countries, however, experienced the same scenario as China. Despite having long enjoyed the advantage of their proximity to the EU-28, and still a major supplier, their share contracted from more than 20% in 2009 to 18% last year. 

In 2015, these four zones accounted for 86% of total extra-EU textile and clothing imports. EU-28 imports originating from these groupings primarily related to clothing goods. Clothing products represented 80% of total imports – a 10.5% gain in value terms.

Looking at products, China remained the main supplier of woven garment imports. However, at 37.6% its share continued to decline to the benefit of South Asian countries whose shares rose. The Mediterranean countries, as the traditional suppliers of the EU-28 in this segment, lost more ground, ending up with a 16.5% share.

But while there are concerns that increasing costs are undermining the competitiveness of China's garment production on the world stage, recent figures confirm it still remains the largest source for apparel buyers as rising prices are largely being offset by productivity gains. No other country can match China in terms of the size of its supply base, its range of skills, its quality levels, its product variety and the completeness of its supply chain. The country also continues to lead the way when it comes to efficiency and infrastructure.

China manufacturing activity shows signs of recovery

EU exports

With regard to EU exports, the region struggled to make gains, according to Euratex. In 2015, around 57.5% of extra-EU exports went to four main groups: the Mediterranean countries with 13.7%,  autonomous countries with 11.8%, EFTA countries with 14.2%, and NAFTA countries with 17.8%. In 2014, these four groups accounted for 59% of extra-EU textile and clothing exports. The decline was, for the most part, linked to exports to the autonomous group – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldavia, Uzbekistan, Russia, Ukraine – in particular due to the embargo on exports to Russia.

Woven fabrics were the major textiles exported by the EU last year, representing 24.4% of total textile and clothing exports. The NAFTA zone and the Mediterranean countries are the biggest purchasers of textile goods, which include yarns, fabrics, knitted fabrics and special textiles.

In terms of clothing, woven and knitted articles represented 32% and 17% of total EU textile and clothing exports, respectively. EFTA and NAFTA countries were the two main buyers, both for woven items with 17% and 18.5% respectively, and for knitted items, with 21% and 15.5%. 

Demand was steady among emerging countries in Asia, with a 24.8% share of purchases of made-up garments. The group of autonomous countries saw a decline due to the fall in exports to Russia.