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Global textile industry greatly affected by COVID-19

Date: 2020-05-22

Offline sales of textiles have been suspended in most parts of the world since mid-March, especially in important markets such as Europe and the United States. The global textile supply chain has also been greatly damaged by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Recently, the International Textile Manufactures Federation (ITMF) released a report on its survey about the impact of the pandemic on the global textile industry.

In March, the ITMF carried out its first survey to find out how the COVID-19 epidemic was affecting the global textile industry. A third survey was conducted in late April, with 600 companies from around the world participating.

According to ITMF, the number of textile orders cancelled and postponed around the world has risen from 8 percent to 41 percent since March. Moreover, the third survey confirmed the expectations in previous surveys that the global crisis in the industry had continued to deteriorate over the previous four weeks. Companies in all regions reported many cancellations and delays. Only a few companies had turned to producing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Textile orders in East Asia dropped 28 percent, but in all the other regions they dropped by 40 percent and more. One reason for this might be that East Asia was the first region to be hit by the outbreak, and was therefore the first to recover from it. China and South Korea were able to contain the epidemic and in the last few weeks, most Chinese textile companies have ramped up production significantly. Likewise, off-line retail stores have reopened, and consumption is picking up again in East Asian countries.

The survey said that compared to 2019, expected turnover for 2020 will be down by 33 percent on a global average. Companies became more pessimistic about their prospects than they were during the second survey.

Companies in Europe are expecting turnover in 2020 to be down by 22 percent, a figure significantly better than the 33 percent reported in the second survey. Companies in East Asia are expecting turnover to be down by 26 percent, which is close to the 24 percent reported in the second survey. Companies’ turnover expectations in Southeast Asia and South Asia on the other hand have deteriorated significantly. These regions were hit later by the pandemic and hence the full impact was delayed. Turnover expectations in Africa, South America and North America have not changed much since the second survey.

The third survey noted that the biggest challenges and difficulties for the global textile industry were how long the epidemic will last and when trade flows will return to normal.

In the medium to long term, uncertainty is a great challenge. Due to increasing uncertainty, it is difficult for companies to plan their production and retain jobs and talents. They are unsure whether they will be able to handle recovering orders and keep their customers. Lack of sales may be leading to further inventory backlogs in many companies, which may bring negative pressure on future pricing.

At present, many interviewed companies are considering diversification, mostly focusing on medical textiles. In addition, due to the dependence on foreign raw material supplies and market demand, companies in some countries are considering concentrating production and streamlining their organizations and production processes. They are also recognizing the importance of local and regional supply chains to move out of global supply chains, and this may bring changes to the current pattern of the textile supply chains.

China’s foreign trade enterprises are still in trouble despite the growing resumption of work and production in the Chinese textile industry. As the epidemic has become a global issue, the sharp reduction in foreign trade orders and costs in keeping low-load production become great burdens. Only some machines and employees are working each day while companies wait for new orders.

After the May Day holiday, workers in a major textile company in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, started to take turns to rest to reduce the company’s burdens, and other companies have done the same.

In fact, many textile companies along the coast are in a quandary. Although only 10 percent of usual orders are being received, companies that take their future development into consideration must start operations to supply goods on time.

In that case, many private companies are paying close attention to global trends in the textile market, and maintaining relations with their old customers, while trying to hang on until full recovery by reducing labor costs and looking for small-scale domestic business in the Southeast Asia market.

Globally, the main strength of the Chinese textile industry still lies in low-end products instead of high-value-added products. Most high-end fabrics remain dependent on imports. Many key parts of textile manufacturing, such as weaving, dyeing and finishing, are dominated by developed countries such as Italy, Germany and Japan. If domestic enterprises can promote their core competitiveness in the current situation, they may enjoy broader prospects in the international market in the future.