Last year, U.S. apparel market grew by four percent. How is the scenario this year?
2012 has been a tough year. Due to economic uncertainty, U.S. consumers have been cautious about their purchases. During the first five months of 2012—the most recent data on U.S. imports—the quantity of total U.S. apparel imports fell by four percent.
Many countries lost even more market share than four percent. Among the top 10 suppliers are: only top-ranked is China, second-ranked Vietnam, and sixth-ranked Cambodia, shipped more apparel than one year ago. We are cautiously optimistic, however, that this trend will turn around in time for the holiday selling season.
What are those economic, political, and environmental trends that may affect sourcing?
In U.S. politics, we are seeing a debate over protectionism vs. opening markets. However, we are hopeful that the argument for opening markets will win, especially as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations continue.
The TPP is a bold initiative for a regional free trade area that by opening markets will create new jobs for the United States as well as for all the TPP trading partners. If we are going to open overseas markets to U.S. goods and services, then we also need to provide more opportunities for our trading partners to sell consumer goods to the U.S. This is our message in the TPP negotiations.
Trying to force a yarn-forward Rule of Origin in the TPP only means that the agreement will not achieve the goal of opening markets among all nine (and soon to be 11) TPP countries.
The argument for opening markets is also clear when you look at the African Growth & Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade preference program that provides duty-free access to the United States for African manufacturers.
AGOA contains a provision that allows manufacturers in Africa to use fabric from non-African countries and still receive the duty benefits; this provision accounts for 95 percent of apparel imports under AGOA and is responsible for 150,000 jobs in Africa, not to mention countless jobs in sourcing, design, marketing, and retail in the United States.
Yet, Congress nearly let this provision expire, much to the dismay of both U.S. brands and African manufacturers. After uproar by some of the United States’ leading apparel brands, as well as the leadership of the AGOA-eligible countries, Congress realized their mistake.
This is just another example of the fact that people are realizing the importance of global value chains and opening markets. By opening markets, we only help U.S. companies; we have to open our market to other goods in order to have new markets for U.S.-made goods, too.
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