Bangladesh Set to Supplant China as World's Top Cotton Importer

  • Booming garment industry behind rise in fiber shipments
  • Vietnam, Indonesia are also seen boosting their imports

As China’s economy has grown, it has become the largest importer of raw materials from copper to iron ore. Yet for one commodity, at least, it’s poised to lose that title.

Bangladesh will probably overtake China as the world’s biggest cotton importer in the current crop season, which lasts through July, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In year ending July 31, Bangladesh will import a record 5.75 million bales of the fiber, up 6.5 percent from a year earlier, the USDA said last week. China is projected to import 5.5 million bales, the lowest since 2003 (one bale weighs 480 pounds, or 218 kilograms).

Bangladesh’s share of the global cotton-export market doubled from 1995 to 2012, mostly because of the strong performance of the ready-made garments sector, the World Bank said in an October report. Since 2009, the nation has been the world’s second-largest exporter of clothing, after China.

There are several reasons for the steep drop in Chinese imports. The country is grappling with wage inflation. It has more-than-ample stockpiles: Most of the 104.4 million bales of global stockpiles predicted by the USDA the current crop year are in China. Also, unlike Bangladesh and several other Asian nations, China has curbs on imports, in the form of quotas and tariffs.

Like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia are gaining market share, too. While cotton use by Bangladeshi mills is forecast to rise by 10 percent in 2015-16, it will jump by 20 percent in Vietnam, the International Cotton Advisory Committee, or ICAC, said Dec. 1.

“Policies for the textile sectors in Bangladesh and Vietnam will encourage consumption growth,” it said.

Cotton futures in New York have risen 4.5 percent this year after tumbling 29 percent in 2014. While growth in countries such as Vietnam “is helping to soften the slowdown in China’s imports, it’s not by much,” Rebecca Randolph, chief statistician at ICAC in Washington, said by e-mail. “The low prices of polyester, one of cotton’s main competitor fibers, is causing cotton to lose market share and this issue is not likely to be resolved anytime soon.’’

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