Could China’s zero-Covid policy hamper textile industry's recovery?
China coughs, and the global textile industry holds its breath. The pandemic is surging again in many parts of China, and the country’s zero-Covid policy, with lockdowns imposed in large swathes of territory once new cases emerge, no longer has widespread support. Manufacturers are concerned that their output could be held back almost overnight, as is currently happening in the textile-producing areas of Shenzhen and Shanghai.
In the province of Guangdong, north of Hong Kong, 17 million people were locked down due to 66 confirmed Covid-19 cases. News that made international buyers shiver, since in recent years the province has attracted a large number of textile-apparel producers serving the export market. At the pandemic’s outset, no fewer than 28,276 local textile manufactures were exporting their products from Guangdong. A concentration that recently induced major international textile-apparel trade show organisers to turn their attention to the Guangdong city of Shenzhen, from French show Première Vision to the main Chinese shows, Intertextile and Chic, which moved their main Shanghai events to Shenzhen in 2020.
Shanghai too is raising concerns among Chinese textile industry clients. In the last few days, China’s most populous metropolis has imposed lockdowns in large sections of its territory. Shanghai lies at the very heart of another bastion of China’s textile-apparel sector. According to industry statistics, Jiangsu province to the north of Shanghai and Zhejiang province to the south are estimated to be home to nearly 13,600 and 12,300 textile exporters respectively.
For the time being, Shandong province, which ranks fourth in China for textile exports, seems to be exempt from lockdowns.
“We are able to operate while fully complying with health regulations, but these sudden lockdowns risk scaring our clients off,” the representative of a shoe manufacturer from Jiangsu told FashionNetwork.com. He said he was concerned about local consumption too, owing to shopping malls closures and the fact that people are less inclined to go shopping. “In the last few days, clients have been contacting us because they are worried. The [zero-Covid] policy is certainly effective, but we should not risk losing orders that we had only recently started to receive again.”
The fear is that China’s supply chain will lose the momentum it gained in 2021, a year when China’s apparel exports grew by 24%, and were up by 16% over pre-pandemic levels. Buyers meanwhile are having to deal with the persistent crisis of maritime transportation and with soaring air freight costs in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, and fear further supply chain disruption.
The anxiety of buyers is understandable, especially in Europe, where labels and retailers, after being severely hit by the pandemic, are now resigning themselves to the fact that consumption will be affected by the winds of war blowing across the continent. China remains by far the world’s largest supplier of apparel, having exported $142 billion (€129.7 billion) worth of goods in 2020, far ahead of Vietnam (with $28 billion) and Bangladesh (with $27 billion), according to the WTO.
The renewed spread of Covid in China is also having a domino effect on Western apparel manufacturers, heavily reliant on the Asian country for fabrics and other materials. Before the pandemic, China was the EU’s premier textile supplier, exporting €11.3 billion worth of goods to Europe, according to the French Fashion Institute. Way ahead of Turkey (which exported €4.8 billion) and India (with €2.7 billion). Add to this the surge in transport costs, and the equation becomes even more complicated for garment manufacturers the world over.
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