Capitol Comments

Nonwoven Roll Goods Exports Slow Down, Imports Increase

By Peter Mayberry and Jessica Franken | October 7, 2009

U.S. imports fall nearly 5% after growing steadily for a decade

At a time when most domestic exports were expanding, U.S. exports of nonwoven roll goods took a surprising hit last year, falling nearly 5% after nearly a decade of steady growth.According to recently released export/import data compiled by the government, U.S. exports of nonwoven roll goods (categorized under Harmonized Tariff Schedule code 5603) fell from a record high of 271 million kilograms in 2006 to 259 million kg in 2007, marking their first loss since 1999 (see Table 1).Meanwhile, U.S. imports of roll goods gained nearly 15%, increasing from 162 million kg in 2006 to 186 million kg in 2007.

Not surprisingly, the value of U.S. roll goods exports also declined in 2007. As Table 2 illustrates, the estimated value of U.S. roll goods imports – as measured both by Free Along Side (FAS) value and General Customs Value—fell by more than 6% last year from a high of nearly $1.4 billion to a little more than $1.3 billion.Meanwhile, the value of U.S. imports expanded, going from $703 million in 2006 to $809 million in 2007, or increasing nearly 15%.

Although the decline in exports is disappointing, members of INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, should take comfort in the fact that the U.S. still exported 70% more nonwoven roll goods than it imported in 2007, and these shipments were worth 60% more than imports overall.

Still, the shift is puzzling. After all, most U.S. exports made significant gains in 2007, largely driven by the weak dollar.Beyond this, last year we reported that U.S. nonwoven roll goods exports had not only continued their steady growth but that imports had fallen for the first time in nearly a decade.So how does one account for the reversal of fortune?Frankly, we are still scratching our heads but maybe a review of the 2007 data will shed some light on the situation.

Export/Import Markets

Less than half of U.S. roll goods exported during 2007 remained in North America, continuing the steady decline witnessed since 2002, when nearly 60% of all exported roll goods from the U.S. were shipped to either Canada or Mexico.

Where are the rest of these nonwovens going?Nearly 85% of all U.S. exports were sent to just ten other countries, and about 25% of nonwoven roll goods exported from the U.S. last year were headed to China, the U.K. and Honduras.China, in fact, was the third largest recipient of U.S. nonwoven roll goods in 2007, receiving 20% more nonwoven roll goods than it did the year before, continuing the U.S. positive balance of trade in these products.

Yet despite the fact that the rate of U.S. nonwoven roll goods exported to China last year was 85% higher than the previous year, exports to five other "Top 10" export destinations—Mexico, Honduras, Japan, Hong Kong and Germany—slowed significantly in 2007, shrinking anywhere from 10% to more than 40% from the year before.And while the total number of export destinations for U.S nonwovens grew from 109 in 2006 to 118 in 2007, only 47 countries received more than they had the year before, as compared to 55 countries the year before.

But there were still some 23 countries that received more than 1 million kg from the U.S, with some showing particularly dramatic gains, including Australia (up 37% to 2.1 million kg); China (up 22% to 45.1 million kg), Indonesia (up 30% to 2.0 million kg), Turkey (up 36% to 1.4 million kg), Israel (up 50% to 1.0 million kg) and the U.K. (up 20% to 15.7 million kg).

A number of other countries posted remarkable gains in the amount of nonwoven roll goods they received in 2007.Peru, for instance, saw nonwovens shipments from the U.S. grow by almost 400% last year, going from a little more than 85,000 kg to almost 430,000 kg, while exports to Costa Rica more than doubled, reaching more than 640,000 kg in 2007. Other notable gains include Vietnam (up 103% to 215,828 kg), Bulgaria (up 13,682% to 106,608 kg) and Ecuador (up 201% to 76,055 kg).

On the import side, 61 countries sent nonwoven roll goods to the U.S. in 2007, five more than the year before. Moreover, 40 of these countries shipped more nonwovens to the U.S. than they did in 2006.Imports from Saudi Arabia, for instance, grew more than 500% in 2007 (rising from 1.3 million kg to 7.9 million kg), while nonwoven shipments from Taiwan more than doubled (growing from 3.4 million kg to 6.9 million kg). Taiwan, as a matter of fact, displaced Korea in earning the last spot on the import "Top 10" list even though shipments from Korea grew more than 30% (going from 4.8 million kg to 6.3 million kg in 2007) and long time "Top 10" import destination mainstays Luxembourg and Italy were replaced by Saudi Arabia and Finland in 2007.

Although China was once again the leading source of nonwoven roll goods imports, the pace of its export growth slowed from 30% in 2006 to a little more than 12% in 2007, mirroring a slowdown in Chinese imports in the overall economy.


It should be noted that nonwoven roll goods were not the only U.S. commodity to lose ground last year.In addition to a number of agricultural and animal products, products in virtually every category of textile and apparel experienced a decline in exports in 2007.

If anything, these data highlight the inherent volatility of global markets and the inevitable fact that there are new winners and losers each year.To help ensure that the U.S. remains the clear winner, domestic firms should focus on factors that have made our industry one of the bright points of U.S. manufacturing: efficiency, adaptability, quality, innovation and market foresight.

World trade liberalization and global market access also seem to be a critical component for our industry's success.For its part, therefore, INDA will continue to press U.S. government to seek opportunities for eliminating duties on nonwoven roll goods, and will look to its members for input on barriers that are preventing free and fair trade.

Peter Mayberry's column appears monthly in Nonwovens Industry.

Related Application:

Related Market: