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World trade in T-shirts
published in Issue 1, 1st Quarter 2008
World trade in T-shirts has been growing at a healthy pace in recent years. Over the four years to 2006 global imports rose at an annual average rate of 14%, reaching US$26 bn.
In terms of geographical region, the largest market for T-shirts is the EU. In 2006 the EU imported US$9 bn worth of T-shirts, or more than one-third of global imports. The second largest market for T-shirts is the USA. In 2006 the country imported approximately 17% of world imports, or US$4.4 bn worth. These two regions together took more than half of global imports of T-shirts during that year. The remainder was spread over a number of countries, led by Japan and followed by Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and South Korea.
As far as the EU market is concerned, Turkey was the largest supplier by value in 2006. Imports from the country were worth Euro2.1 bn (US$2.6 bn) and represented 29% of total EU T-shirt imports during the year. Bangladesh was the second largest supplier with a 16% share of total imports. Imports from China and India, in third and fourth place respectively, were particularly impressive between 2004 and 2006. Indeed, supplies of T-shirts from India to the EU shot up by an average of 49% a year while the corresponding growth rate for China was 34%.
As far as the US market is concerned, the largest supplier by value during 2006 was Mexico, followed by Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. Collectively, these six countries accounted for 54% of US T-shirt imports during the year. Several large North American companies—such as Gildan Activewear, Hanesbrands and Delta Apparel—have invested in production facilities in these countries in the hope of profiting from low labour costs, geographical proximity, and trade preference agreements. Output from these facilities is sold to parent companies in North America, which helps export growth in the country of operation. The seventh and eighth largest suppliers of T-shirts to the USA by value in 2006 were, respectively, China and India. Both countries enjoyed particularly strong growth in the market between 2004 and 2006. The growth reflects an improvement in these countries’ competitiveness since the removal of quotas at the end of 2004.
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