Capitol Comments

Roll Goods Exports Rebound in 2010

By Jessica Franken, INDAu2008Director of Government Affairs | May 3, 2011

exports grow 20% to hit an all-time high

Based on recently released government import/export statistics, 2010 was a comeback year for the domestic nonwovens industry, with trade data showing that U.S. exports of nonwoven roll goods (categorized under Harmonized Tariff Schedule code 5603) hit an all-time high in 2010, growing nearly 20 percent to 301.7 million kilograms sent abroad (see Table 1). U.S. roll goods shipments also increased in value, growing more than 23 percent to $1.5 billion in 2010 (see Table 2).
At the same time, however, U.S. imports of these goods also grew more than 20 percent in 2010 to 160.8 million kilograms. Their value also increased, rising almost 24 percent to $846.8 million in 2010.

Of course, the export and import gains in 2010 aren't especially surprising given the overall surge in world trade in 2010 following significant contractions during the previous year's "Great Recession."Still, our industry's near 25 percent export growth rate last year exceeds the healthy but more modest 16.6 percent expansion in U.S. shipments, and 14.5 percent growth in world goods exports.

While it is still too early to say whether the 2010 numbers signal an enduring trend, especially considering the global economy's continuing volatility, it's useful to review the data to better understand potential challenges as well as future opportunities.

Import/Export Markets
As Table 3 shows, less than half of U.S. roll goods exports stayed in the U.S.-North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) region, continuing a steady decline since 2002, when nearly 60 percent of all U.S. roll goods exports remained in North America.

So where were the rest of these nonwovens headed? Despite concerns about U.S. competitiveness against Asian imports, a survey of the "Top 10" export destinations (which account for more than 75 percent of the overall total) reveals that more than 24 percent went to destinations like China, Japan, and Thailand last year.

China, in fact, was once again the third largest recipient of U.S. nonwovens in 2010, receiving nearly 13 percent of total U.S. exports last year.At the same time, Japan emerged as an important export destination, with rolls goods shipments growing more than 40 percent to 11.1 million kg last year (although tragically, it's questionable whether
the devastated country will repeat the performance this year).

The number of export destinations declined from 104 in 2009 to 102 with some 62 countries receiving more than the previous year, which is still a marked decrease from 2008 when the U.S. posted export growth in 81 nations). Of those, 32 nations received more than 1 million kg – three more than had the year prior, seemingly mirroring the steady but slow economic growth taking place throughout the world. Some countries showed particularly dramatic gains, including Chile (up 100% to 6.6 million kg), Brazil (up 89% to 5.2 million kg), Spain (up 108% to 4.0 million kg), and the Czech Republic (up 1,131% to 3.8 million kg).

On the import side, 63 countries sent roll goods to the U.S. in 2010, with 35 of these countries shipping more nonwovens to the U.S. than they had the year before.Some 16 nations posted losses in 2010, with Saudi Arabia showing one of the most noteworthy contractions, sliding some 65% from more than 10 million kg. to not quite 3.5 million kg in 2010.There were some noteworthy import gains. U.S. nonwoven roll goods imports from India grew nearly 140 percent to more than 20 million kg. in 2010, while imports from Netherlands expanded more than 110 percent in 2010 to more than 9 million kg. Meanwhile, imports from Denmark grew significantly, nearly 180 percent to nearly almost 6 million kg. while Indonesian imports nearly doubled to almost 1.5 million kg.

Meanwhile, China, which has witnessed an exceptionally strong economic recovery, was again the leading source of roll goods, with imports totaling nearly 43 million kg. This is a more than 45 percent gain from 2009 and parallels the nation's overall 2010 trade gains.

So What Does it All Mean?
One can draw a number of conclusions from the above. After the worldwide economic downturn seemingly threatened to reverse the trend towards economic globalization in 2009, the dramatic gains in trade throughout the world during the recovery in 2010 highlighted the important role that trade plays in wealth creation.

This reality has not escaped those in Washington as the nation continues its trip on the slow but steady path to economic recovery.After pursuing a decidedly conservative trade agenda during his first two years, new Republican majorities on Capitol Hill appear to have pushed President Obama towards a more centrist, business-friendly agenda that features a plan to double U.S. exports over five years. To meet this goal, the White House is working overtime to finalize stalled deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, and clinch a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Given that GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are also on-board, it appears trade will be the "it" thing in Washington in the days ahead. That is, assuming politicians can get past the rancor that recently almost led to a government shutdown – and we all know what happens when we assume things.

Either way, INDA is seizing this renewed interest to re-convene its International Trade Advisory Board (ITAB), with plans to re-launch in Cary, NC this summer and one of the primary goals expected to be establishing a unified nonwovens voice on contemporary trade policy matters. With this in mind, INDA will be inviting all of its members to participate to ensure broad industry representation. Be sure to check back here, as well as your email inbox and INDA's Washington Alert, for more information. Meanwhile, although a draft agenda has already been crafted, INDA is still taking suggestions for topics during the inaugural session. To pass along your feedback, contact me at or 703/521-0545.

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