China’s position as the top global cotton importer is weakening as cotton shipments flow into flourishing textile industries in competing countries, according to a report by the Economic Research Service, US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Following years of rising production costs, volatility from government intervention in the market, and government caps on the volume of imports, China’s cotton imports dropped from their peak of 24.5 million bales in 2011 to 4.4 million bales in 2015, before rebounding to 9.5 million bales in 2021.
Meanwhile, competing countries, like Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey, expanded their textile industries and boosted cotton imports over the same period
These countries’ combined imports now exceed China’s volume of cotton imports and this increasing geographic diversification of global cotton demand has helped US cotton exports to remain relatively robust despite volatility in China’s imports over the past decade, the report added.
Moreover, growth in textile production outside of China supports the USDA projection that US cotton exports will rise by about 1.4 million bales between 2021–30.
USDA also projects that combined cotton imports by Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey will rise by 8.1 million bales from 2021 to 2030 while China’s imports will rise by a more modest 3.5 million bales.
In 2030, China is forecast to account for 24% of total global cotton imports, while the other five destinations are projected to account for 47% of world cotton imports.
Soon after China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, the nation’s textile manufacturers had become the world’s leading importers of cotton.