The cotton market is truly global in scope. The United States exports around 80% of its produced cotton fiber each year and imports about 18 million bales of cotton in apparel, home goods and other finished textile goods annually. Because of the market’s global nature, Cotton Incorporated promotes cotton to spinning mills and manufacturers around the world on behalf of U.S. cotton producers and importers. They have offices in North America, Latin America, China, Japan and Hong Kong.
As the organization that oversees Cotton Incorporated’s activities, The Cotton Board conducts an executive evaluation of Cotton Incorporated’s international offices and activities every few years. Earlier this year, a delegation of Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated leadership visited cotton spinners, textile manufacturers, cut/sew manufacturers and retailers in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Thailand to review Cotton Incorporated’s activities promoting cotton use in Asia. The delegation included Cotton Board CEO Bill Gillon, Cotton Board VP of Importer Relations Elizabeth King and Cotton Board Members Sonja Chapman (importer), Mark Nichols (producer, Oklahoma) and Laurie Rando (importer). Cotton Incorporated’s Chief Operating Officer William Kimbrell, Senior VP of Global Supply Chain Marketing Mark Messura and Chairman James Johnson (producer, New Mexico) also attended.
Over the span of 11 days, the delegation visited one international retailer, two local retail companies, six apparel manufacturers and two fabric mills. The group toured fabric weaving, dyeing and finishing mills and several cut/sew operations. Most companies visited were generally committed to cotton with a bias toward U.S. cotton.
Cotton Incorporated’s presence and influence in the region was apparent on the visit. Mark Nichols said, “It was clear that Cotton Incorporated staff had been working with many of these companies over a long period of time and had developed strong, professional relationships.” Cotton Incorporated’s Global Supply Chain Marketing division works with companies to help them successfully incorporate cotton fabric innovations into their product lines. “Each company we visited had been utilizing one or more Cotton Incorporated technologies in their products,” said Nichols.
During the evaluation trip, a topic that continued to rise to the forefront of conversation was supply chain transparency and traceability. The supply chain for cotton products imported into the United States is changing for traceability and sustainability reasons. In 2022, implementation of the United State’s Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (Public Law No. 117-78 also known as the UFLPA), enforced the prohibition on the importation of goods into the United States that were manufactured wholly or in part with forced labor in the People’s Republic of China, especially from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, or Xinjiang.
Sonja Chapman said, “The textile and apparel manufacturing companies we met with were all focused on developing different, more transparent supply chains to comply with the U.S. UFLPA and other similar legislation they expect to be enacted in other major markets.”
The passage of UFLPA by the United States has required an immediate shift in resources and a shift in actual, physical locations of cotton product manufacturing operations. Bill Gillon noted that the evaluation trip provided clear evidence that sourcing patterns and documentation requirements are changing quickly. “As an organization, we are well positioned to help the industry face these challenges,” Gillon said.
The evaluation revealed a strong, intelligent, committed Cotton Incorporated staff in Asia that seems cohesive, happy and energetic. The trip provided the delegation with overwhelming evidence that Cotton Incorporated is working with cotton users at every stage of the processing and retail process to enhance the use of cotton and to enhance cotton’s market performance in international markets.