China likes U.S. cotton. They appreciate the quality, and they would buy more if they could get quota restrictions lifted.
“Chinese textile manufacturers have an insufficient volume of quality cotton,” says Shane Stephens, National Cotton Council chairman, who recently led a delegation of U.S. cotton leaders on a trade mission to China. “They want more high quality, U.S. cotton,” Stephens he told the American Cotton Producers and Cotton Foundation joint summer meeting Wednesday at Lubbock, Texas.
“The Chinese textile industry wants to see a more free market.”
Stephens noted that a spokesman from the U.S Embassy in China said although relations between the U.S. and Chinese governments have cooled in recent years, the relationship between U.S. and Chinese cotton industries remains cordial.
“The Chinese cotton industry has tremendous respect for the National Cotton Council,” he says, “and hopes to see cooperation from U.S. cotton to insure a stable supply of high quality cotton. Industry officials say China could buy as much as 30 percent more cotton if they had additional quota.”
Better quality cotton will allow Chinese mills to produce more high-end goods. “They have plenty of low-grade cotton,” Stephens says. “They would prefer to move that cotton to other areas — Vietnam, for instance — to produce tee shirts and denim and turn toward more high quality fabrics.
A SOLID REPUTATION
“The Chinese are big fans of U.S. cotton,” said Kevin Brinkley, a member of the delegation from Lubbock. “U.S. cotton has a solid reputation.”
An encouraging sign he witnessed during the trip was that Chinese consumers are “taking a lot of cotton off the market. We saw a lot of tee shirts and blue jeans.” Stephens says they saw no yoga pants in China. Yoga pants and other athletic apparel use a lot of man-made fiber.
“We also learned that we don’t have a problem between the U.S. cotton industry and the Chinese cotton industry — we both understand that governments sometimes get in the way.”
Doyle Schniers, San Angelo, Texas, tried his best to find some of his own Texas cotton in the Chinese warehouses the delegation visited. “I found some Texas cotton,” he says, “and I found some that was ginned near our area, but I was hoping to find some of my cotton. I never did.”
Most of the reserves cotton they saw came from the 2012 and 2013 crops, he says. “We also saw small farms, only 3.5 to 4 acres. We didn’t see large operations.”
Sampling is a priority for the Chinese, Schniers says. “One of every 8 U.S. bales is re-sampled,” he says. Stephens adds that 1 in 10 Australian bales is re-sampled and 1 in 5 bales from Africa get checked again.
WATER, ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Greg Wuertz, Casa Grande, Ariz., says China’s farmers will face increasing challenges with water and environmental issues.
As is the case in U.S. agriculture, he says, China’s farmers are getting older, with average age in the late 50s. “The younger Chinese population has had a taste of free enterprise and they don’t want to go back to farming.”
Sonny Davis, Cottondale, Fla., says a lasting impression from China “wasn’t what we saw, but what we didn’t see. We didn’t see tractors or equipment sheds or tool sheds.” He recalls seeing manual labor. We didn’t see men in the fields, but rather women and small kids, little girls. I wondered about their futures.” The Chinese were cordial, hospitable, and polite, he says. “Farming there is not about making money — it’s about existing.”
“We were encouraged to see how favorably China views U.S. cotton,” says Patrick Johnson, Tunica, Miss. “They want to have access to U.S. cotton. We also saw that contamination is a big issue.”
Contamination is a top priority for the council, Stephens says. “I can’t overstate the importance of preventing contamination.”
Johnson also commented on the government support Chinese farmers receive. “It provides just the basics for their families.”
Stephens says China offers significant marketing opportunities for U.S. cotton. “China’s population numbers 1.37 billion. And as is the case in the U.S., the agriculture portion of the economy is getting smaller.” China uses a lot of man-made fibers — 37.6 million metric tons, which equates to 172.7 million 480 lb. bales of cotton.
“China’s primary concerns include food safety,” he says. Other concerns include environmental issues, poor quality cotton, and cotton farmers losing money. “Every Chinese cotton farmer lost money last year. The government eliminated the corn subsidy after the crop was planted. They also have very poor quality in a lot of their commodities.”
Online buying plays a significant role in consumer purchases, moreso than in the U.S., Stephens says. “Sam’s Club is huge in China.”
The Zika virus is also affecting the cotton market, he says. “Every commodity coming in from a nation with identified Zika virus must be fumigated, which adds another layer of market cost.”
China’s cotton industry is increasingly high tech, Stephens says. “They are following NCC recommendation for industry development.”
China is working toward a cotton promotion program that focuses on 95 percent cotton textiles, with 60 percent of that Chinese cotton.
Production agriculture faces some challenges, he says. “Agriculture in China is 60 percent mechanized, but cotton is only 25 percent. Food security remains the No. 1 priority.”