Remember all those stories you've heard or read about Chinese cotton being packaged in 200-pound bales and stored in leaky Quonset huts or on the ground? Well, you can start moving those stories to the category of “no longer relevant for today's market.”

China's image as a country in which it's easier to import cotton from abroad than to move it within the country is changing, according to the leader of a Cotton Council International delegation that toured China's cotton area.

“Many people believe that much of China's cotton infrastructure is antiquated,” says Bobby Carson, a cotton producer from Marks, Miss., and now chairman of CCI. “Perhaps this is true in some areas of the country. However, I can assure you that China is rapidly modernizing key segments of the industry.”

Carson's Cotton USA delegation to China traveled to Beijing and to two cities — Qingdao and Wuxi — where it carried out seminars on U.S. cotton sourcing for 184 textile mill executives representing 90 companies in September.

One of the stops in Qingdao was a new warehouse complex owned by the China Reserve Cotton Management Corp.

“This recently completed and ultra-modern facility is one of 18 of its size to be constructed throughout China,” said Carson, who spoke at a press briefing conducted by CCI at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.

“Each has a capacity of 230,000 bales and the ability to move more than 2,000 bales in or out of the facility per day. Small amounts of U.S., Australian, Brazilian and other cottons were seen in the warehouse, plus a sizeable volume of 1997 Xinjiang cotton in an older building in the complex.”

Carson said the delegation was amazed by the growth of the Chinese textile industry that appears to be poised to become even larger in the years ahead. According to a recent Globecot study cited by Carson:

  • China's textile capacity stands at 50 million spindles and 750,000 looms and is growing.

  • There are 45,600 textile firms employing 10 million workers in China.

  • China's textile and apparel exports reached $36.5 billion in 2002.

  • China is projected to produce 50 percent of the world's supply of cotton yarn and blended yarn by 2015.

  • China is projected to produce 43 percent of the world's supply of cotton fabric, also by 2015.

  • China is a major importer of cotton yarns and fabrics from other Asian sources.

“Fortunately, a significant percentage of these cotton product imports contain U.S.-grown cotton,” said Carson. “But there is no doubt that China is now and will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the world market for textile and apparel.”

According to USDA estimates, China has committed to buy more than 3.2 million bales of U.S. cotton and could purchase a total of 7 million bales from the United States and other producing countries in the current market year (which runs through July 31).

“China is expected to consume 30.2 million bales or 31 percent of total mill demand,” said Carson. “Historically, China represents only 29 percent of total world mill demand. Looking to the future, most analysts believe China's production will recover next year and its imports will be reduced to 3 million to 4 million bales.”

On a more optimistic note, “several of the officials indicated that the Chinese consumer is expressing a strong preference for natural fiber, even in rural areas,” said Carson. “Globecot projects that some 1.4 billion people are expected to live in China by 2015.

“If population and economic growth remains on track, China's domestic consumption of apparel and accessories could triple by 2015. Significant growth in home textile consumption is predicted as well.”

For that reason, China has become an important target for Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated.

“Towards that end, CCI successfully tested its demand-pull strategy in China last year with an innovative promotion that reached all of southern China,” he noted. “This small test promotion generated $1.6 million in sales of U.S. cotton-rich products.

“CCI has important strategic partnerships with other U.S. industry organizations, global laundry product manufacturers, Cotton USA Mark licensees and media outlets around the world. The net result is a much larger global presence for U.S. cotton. In 2003, with the help of its strategic partners, CCI leveraged it fiscal 2002 budget to $44 million.”


e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com