The End of the Multi-fiber Arrangement on January 1, 2005

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1 On January , the World Trade Organization agreement on textiles and clothing expired. All WTO members have unrestricted access to the American and European markets for their textiles exports. The abolition of quotas is likely to prompt tremendous growth in this industry while causing short term political and economic challenges to established European businesses faced with low cost rival imports from China and other tiger economies. The surge in Chinese exports does not just threaten established European producers; it also threatens to undermine other developing countries who currently benefit from preferential trade agreements with the EU and the US, such as Turkey with the EU and Mexico with the US. Under the previous arrangements, developing countries were able to rely upon established trade quotas with western markets to remain economically viable. These countries which include, for example, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indonesia previously had a comparative advantage due to their low labor costs. Producers in these countries now face competition from China not only over price, but over quality, quantity, and reliability as well. Levels of productivity in China are significantly higher than in their competitor developing countries, which further suppresses the cost per unit of Chinese items and makes them proportionately more attractive to commercial buyers in the west. Furthermore, China (along with India) is not dependent on importing raw materials to supply its textiles industry it is already the largest producer of cotton in the world. Similarly, China has made very substantial capital investments in leading-edge production technology that allows flexibility and responsiveness to the demands from western buyers. The economically developed members of the EU are not thought to be amongst those economies likely to suffer from the deregulation of this market. In 2003 the EU was the world s second largest clothing importer and exporter. However, the European Commission came under serious pressure in April 2005 from the large textiles producing member states (France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece) to place tariffs or sanctions on Chinese-made items as a protectionist measure. American textile producers are also concerned with the 1000 percent increase in imports of certain types of cotton-based clothing. US textiles producers have lobbied the Administration intensively to place trade restrictions on fourteen types of Chinese made clothing imports. The Administration has yet to take positive steps along these lines but continues to express its will to do so. Relations between the EU and China are currently in a fluid state Beijing is dismayed the EU is considering placing tariffs or sanctions on Chinese produced goods while enjoying more favorable relations over such things as arms exports. 1

2 The End of the Multi-fiber Arrangement on January 1, 2005 The Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) expired at the end of This agreement protected industrialized countries from cheap imports for forty years, to the disadvantage of developing countries. The protectionist measures were established by long-term Agreement on Cotton Textiles (1962), which imposed quotas on cotton products, while the Multi-fiber Arrangement (MFA) dealt with other areas of the textiles industry. The logic behind these agreements was to provide time for the textiles and clothing industries of industrialized countries to adjust to competition from low cost and more productive developing countries. From 1962 on these industries were regulated by a complicated system of import quotas which had the effect of restricting the absolute level of imports and protecting the textiles industries within the EU area. Sadly, the textile industries of many EU member states did not take the opportunity forty years of protectionist agreements afforded them to restructure, and therefore now face serious competition from developing countries that potentially undermines their viability. Even in North and South Carolina, where many textile businesses folded as a result of NAFTA at a cost of around 10,000 jobs (US Department of Labor), the end of protectionist quotas will have a further and large impact on these industries. The liberalization of this industry has been gradual. From 1995 to the present day, only 51 percent of imports have been integrated into western economies. Moreover, most western countries kept the restrictive quotas on sensitive product categories like shirts, T- shirts, jeans and underwear until the ATC expired. At the end of 2004 over 60 percent of EU quotas on Chinese products were still being utilized. Thus, the removal of the quota system represents a seismic shift for the industry. Winners and Losers at the End of the Multi-fiber Agreement: China Threatens to Dominate the World Textile Market The end of this agreement will work to the advantage of a small number of countries. China is likely to be the main beneficiary of these developments. This is because its exports are high quality, rapidly produced and very low cost. The largest losers from this process will be the sub-saharan countries as well as countries in the Caribbean basin, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Additionally, countries that traditionally benefited from their geographical proximity to the EU and the US (as a result of preferential treatment e.g. Mexico, Eastern Europe, North Africa and Turkey) will also suffer disadvantages from the end of the agreement. Out of those countries on the list of secondary losers in these developments Turkey will feel the greatest sense of loss. Turkey was the EU s most important supplier of textiles and enjoyed a degree of preferential treatment through its free access to the EU trade area from 1996 and because of its geographical proximity 2

3 to the Union. In the last few years Turkey has already lost out to China as the largest supplier of textiles to the European Union. This is a very important development to Turkey as textiles represent 32 percent of all its exports (around $15bn in 2003). Turkey does, however, still have the advantage of geographical and political proximity, which still gives it commercial leverage in the EU, enabling it to offer faster deliveries and also to respond to short notice orders. To maintain competitiveness Turkey will need to reform its textiles industry to focus on quality rather than the price of its products, as this is where its comparative advantage should lie. The Sensitivity of the EU to the Textiles Trade The European Union is the world s second largest importer and exporter of textiles and clothing after the US. The European textiles industry employs (2003 figures) 2.7 million people and had a turnover of more than 250 billion dollars. The sector is notable for the high number of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and proportion of female workers within it. Production and employment are characterized by a high degree of regional concentration. The five most heavily populated countries (Italy, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain) represent three quarters of textile/clothing production in the EU-15. Southern Europe (Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal) are generally more active in the clothing sector, while Northern Europe (UK, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, Sweden) focus more heavily on textiles. More than half of Europe s textile companies are Italian. There are around 50,000 textile companies clustered in Biella, Como and nearby regions. They are usually small, often family-run firms employing on average ten people. Nearly two-thirds of their production is exported. The majority of these firms have had to cut production and/or workers or have moved their production abroad to take advantage of lower wages. The French textiles industry has led the way in reforming and reshaping itself to meet the demands of a more competitive world shedding a third of its workforce since As a result, more than sixty percent of French brands are now produced outside of France. Prior to deregulation, the EU s textiles industry underwent some large shifts and 2002 were very difficult years for the sector, with an 8.7 percent fall in production and 8.4 percent fall in jobs. In 2002, the EU s textiles deficit amounted to 26,200 million (with a surplus for textiles of 7,900 million and a deficit for clothing of 34,100 million). The European industry is expected to suffer when Chinese businesses have free access to European markets, especially in the context of the WTO assessing that China currently produces 17 percent of the world s textiles but by 2007 will be producing over 50 percent of these items. 3

4 Response to Challenges In a comparison period of January May 2004 and 2005 in the EU, there has been an increase of 534 percent in sweater imports and a 413 percent increase in men s trousers from Chinese producers. The European Trade Commissioner is currently investigating the costs of Chinese imports on the European industry. Italian and French clothing makers are being particularly vociferous in their complaints to the Commission about Chinese imports. The Commissioner (Peter Mandelson) has recommended investigating the implications of nine categories of Chinese textiles imports while France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece want him to investigate twenty categories. Interestingly, German, Austrian and Swiss textile and clothing industrial associations have welcomed the end of the multi-fiber agreement on enterprise and free-market grounds. These countries are actively improving their links with Chinese producers and expect that the end of import quotas will benefit their economies through reciprocal opportunities to export high-value items into the growing Chinese consumer markets, where it is anticipated that 10 percent of Chinese people will have purchasing power similar to that of an American. EU Guidelines and the EU-Chinese Relations On April 6, 2005 the EU published guidelines that clarified the circumstances under which it would consider protecting indigenous textile businesses against textile and clothing imports from China. The safeguard action, which can run until 2008, can be invoked in cases where there is market disruption...impeding the orderly development of trade in clothing and textiles products. This protection is a clause written into China s protocol of Accession to the WTO in 2001, which was incorporated into EU law in According to EU officials, the purpose of these guidelines is to provide clarity and predictability for both Chinese and European textile producers. However, the EU is reluctant to go down the route of imposing tariffs or restrictions on Chinese imports for wider diplomatic reasons. China is the second largest trading partner of the EU after the US. Since 1978, EU-China trade has increased more than 30-fold and reached around 175 billion in Beijing, keen to protect its high value technology industries, has mooted imposing trade restrictions on imports into China, independently of the EU s investigation into textile tariffs. Beijing s response to the EU s investigation into Chinese textiles imports has been to suggest that there will be a cooling of diplomatic and economic relations should the EU follow this path. Summary Facing competition from countries with low labor costs (mainly in Asia), the EU s textiles industry remains competitive owing to its high productivity and its strengths (innovation, technology, quality, creativity, design and fashion). The textile/clothing 4

5 sector is economically significant for a number of new member states and candidate countries. Even if in the short-term the EU and US impose protectionist restrictions, in the medium and long term they will be forced to reshape and reform their textiles industries. The key way to protect these industries without the use of protectionist measures is to specialize in technologically advanced products. Since the Safeguard quotas only run until 2008, a Euro-Chinese commercial alliance provides a key opportunity to create a win-win outcome. As China s purchasing power increases, the EU can benefit by exporting technologically advanced fabrics and high quality and well designed clothes. The end of the quota system does not mean the end for tariffs. Tariffs will remain a legitimate way of controlling the flow of imports and means that countries that belong to regional free trade economic areas still have a comparative advantage. Countries like Turkey and Mexico might remain the principle providers of clothing as long as they continue to import textiles from the EU and the USA, respectively (for example, USA exports over forty percent of its textiles to Mexico and only two percent to China). Additionally, given their geographical proximity, improvement in their logistics chain could provide these countries with a marginal competitive advantage over China given the sensitivity of the clothing market to timely supply and swift changes in orders. It is in the EU s economic and diplomatic interest to try and enter markets that are currently closed to its products. European companies with pre-existing international operations or those that specialize in high-grade textiles (technical fabrics) as well as design, marketing and sales in the garment sector like Germany are particularly well suited to breaking into these new markets. Additionally, factory-less companies, meaning companies that specialize in trading rather than manufacturing will also benefit from closer relations with China and other low-cost production countries. An advanced commercial relationship with China would also benefit companies seeking to relocate their production facilities abroad. The high wage countries of the EU are likely to gain even though countries like Portugal, Spain and Greece will suffer economically, through damage to their textiles industries. Overall, efficiency and gains from lower wholesale prices will benefit the EU consumers. The increased importance of subcontracting, relocation of production, pressure for restructuring and modernization of the industry, and the definitive elimination of the quota system from January 1, 2005 pose major challenges for the future of the textiles industry in the EU and US. The end of the quotas in textiles and clothing is only the beginning of a new era in global garment production, the future of which is likely to be shaped by international market forces (example, labor costs) but also by private and public decisions. 5

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