The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA)’s VP of trade and customs policy, Beth Hughes has confirmed the organisation “intends to participate” in the USITC’s examination of the five key US apparel sourcing countries.

The United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) also looks forward to providing insights about how global brands and retailers define competitiveness today.

USFIA president Julie Hughes pointed out: “It’s been many years since this level of analysis and the sourcing landscape has changed dramatically.”

NCTO president and CEO Kim Glas agreed and told Just Style this is one of the first studies she’s seen looking at the shifts in global textile and apparel trade and growing import market share. She hopes it will “bring about more transparency into the trade practices of these countries as well as the scope of their reach into the US market”.

She explained: “US textile and apparel manufacturers compete in one of the most unbalanced economic playing fields of any industrial manufacturing segment. We have long called for a review of US textile trade policy and the negative ramifications related to the aggressive predatory practices of many of our foreign competitors.”

The report titled Apparel: Export Competitiveness of Certain Foreign Suppliers to the United States (Investigation No. 332-602) is expected to be submitted to the Trade Representative by 30 August with a public hearing taking place on 7 March.

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Glas claimed some countries in the study have engaged in what she described as “unfair trade practices” and added they have allegedly been “cited in the past for using forced or child labour and subjecting their workers to unsafe working conditions, while polluting the environment with little government oversight”.

What are the aims of the US investigation into Asian apparel sourcing competitiveness?

For Hughes, there are many factors to consider: “Quality, cost, speed to market, compliance with trade regulations, social compliance and environmental compliance top the list. And flexibility and agility in working with brands is a key ingredient in competitiveness.”

The USITC stated it aims to deliver on four key objectives:

  1. A comparison of the relative US market shares held by Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan currently (up to and including calendar year 2023, if available) and five (2018) and ten (2013) years ago; and an analysis of changing patterns in market shares and trade including against other top suppliers, noting any significant shifts.
  2. Country-specific profiles of the apparel industries in the above-listed countries, including information on investment, vertical integration, duty-free access to the US market, wages and labour productivity, and sourcing of inputs, as well as an assessment of the export competitiveness of each country in the US market considering major factors of competitiveness such as trade, industry structure, price and costs, product differentiation, and reliability, using available statistical and qualitative information.
  3. A review of general literature on the key determinants driving export competitiveness in the global apparel industry, to the extent that it is relevant to conditions in the selected countries.
  4. A data appendix, to the degree that additional data relevant to competitiveness are identified by the review of the literature and are available. 

The USFIA hopes to see more analysis from the USITC about the competitiveness of Western Hemisphere trading partners who have duty-free access to the US market with Hughes highlighting: “They are not only major suppliers to brands and retailers but also customers of the US textile industry.”

Otexa’s findings on the five Asian apparel sourcing countries

Earlier this month the US Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) released its data for November, which showed Cambodia was one of the only top 10 sourcing countries to see shipment volumes grow in November.

India booked a 9% decline in apparel exports to the US at 69MM2, Pakistan’s shipment volumes fell 20% to 52MM2 and Indonesia booked the largest decline in shipment volumes to the US at negative 35% year-on-year to 51MM2.

Imports from Bangladesh continued to sink for the fourth consecutive month with shipment volumes falling 14% to 144MM2.

The University of Delaware’s associate professor of fashion and apparel studies Dr Sheng Lu said at the time that Bangladesh’s share of US apparel imports was “dwindling,” as its market share had dropped sharply from 12% in January 2023 to around 8% in November.

He explained it highlighted the disproportionately negative impact of weakened US import demand on Bangladesh, as it primarily provides large-volume basic apparel items.

Lu also pointed out “the new instability in Bangladesh, triggered by its controversial new minimum wage negotiation, could further complicate US fashion companies’ decision to source from the country”.