I really enjoy TRALAC’s Newsletter – their analysis is always concise and down-to-earth. This Hot Seat Comment is no exception. One often wonders about the impact and nett result of tariff changes and trade remedies. Here we get some insight.
The clothing and textile industry has a long history in South Africa and is still a very important source of employment, especially for women and in poorer communities. The industry is geographically bound to specific provinces, including the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and Gauteng. In many rural areas the clothing and textile sector is often the only source of formal employment. Since about 2002 the Rand appreciated substantially and South African exports became less competitive in the global market. Coupled with the trade liberalisation, in terms of South Africa’s WTO offer, the clothing and textile industry has experienced sustained import competition due mostly from Asian imports. In order to try and remedy large-scale factory closures and employment losses in the industry the Southern Africa Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) applied for an increase in the import tariffs of 124 clothing tariff lines to the WTO bound rates of 45 percent in 2009. These clothing tariff lines are classified under Chapter 61 and 62 of the South African Tariff Book and include various clothing items, including men’s woven and knitted shirts, jackets and trousers; babies’ garments; and women’s woven and knitted jackets, skirts, dresses and trousers. Although the retailers objected to an increase in import duties the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) granted the application and general customs duties on 121 clothing tariff lines were increased from 40 percent to 45 percent, while the general customs duties on three tariff lines (hosiery) was increased from 20 percent to 45 percent.
In its application SACTWU stated three reasons for the application: there has been a significant increase in imports under these 124 tariff lines flowing into South Africa; market disruptions in the SACU industry which have resulted in factory closures and retrenchments warranted increased protection for the domestic industry; and increased tariffs will provide both relief and show increased confidence in the industry. The retail industry objected to the application on the following grounds: the loss of business in the manufacturing industry can not only be attributed to price competition, but also inefficiency in the local industry; increased duties will have an inflationary effect impacting the ability of consumers to buy clothing at competitive prices; and increased duties will have a punitive effect on the rail sector and the end consumers. In its decision the Commission found the declining rate of investment and employment in the clothing sector coupled with increased imports a disturbing trend. The Commission decided that an increase in customs duties will enable manufacturers to protect existing jobs, increase market penetration and price competition and growth the domestic manufacturing sector in the export market. However, the question of whether the increase in these customs duties have been successful in reaching its goal of decreased imports and increased domestic production, sales and exports still remain.
Import and export data sourced from the World Trade Atlas (2013) and production and sales data sourced from Statistics South Africa (2013) show the following patterns in the clothing industry between 2009 and 2012:
- Over the time period imports of the 124 clothing tariff lines increased by 15 percent, from approximately US$ 834 million in 2009 to approximately US$ 1.2 billion in 2012.
- The top five importing countries were China, Mauritius, India, Madagascar and Bangladesh, accounting for 89 percent of the total imports of these clothing articles into South Africa over the time period.
- China mainly exported men’s, boy’s, women’s and girl’s cotton trousers; knitted sweaters and pullovers; cotton and knitted t-shirts; and knitted babies’ garments to South Africa between 2009 and 2012.
- South Africa’s exports of these clothing tariff lines increased by 6 percent, from approximately US$ 71 million in 2009 to approximately US$ 84 million in 2012.
- These clothing articles were mainly exported to African countries, including Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
- The production index of the physical volume of production (base year is 2005) show there has been a significant decrease in the volume of production of knitted and crocheted articles and wearing apparel in South Africa. The index decreased from an average of 108.11 in 2009 to an average of 79.82 in 2012.
- The sales of knitted and crocheted articles and wearing apparel also declined over the time period. Actual value of sales declined by 3 percent, from approximately US$ 18 billion in 2009 to approximately US$ 16 billion in 2012.
Although there has not been a significant lapse of time since the increase of import tariffs the data gives the short term response of imports, exports, and production to the change in import duties in November 2009. Immediately after the increase in tariffs there was an initial decrease in exports, production and sales. However, exports recovered by the end of 2012, while production and sales are still significant lower than pre-2009 levels. SACTWU has also recently indicated that employment in the clothing, textiles and leather sector seems to be more stable over the last two years. However, one of the main objectives of the increase in import duties, to deter lower priced imports mainly from Asia, has not been accomplished. Source and content credit – Willemien Viljoen, TRALAC Researcher.