After stagnating during the pandemic, the textile industry has begun to strongly recover and the demand for cotton has risen. It is expected that cotton consumption in 2021 will grow faster than the supply. This will lead to a reduction in global cotton stocks and higher prices. The issues of sustainability and ethical background become increasingly important in the transformation of cotton supply chains.

Key Trends and Insights

With increased demand from the textile industry, global cotton stocks fell to a three-year low. Although cotton production is projected to increase by 5% in 2021, the demand will outpace supply which will raise prices further. In the medium term, the main driver of growth in the cotton market will be the demand for textiles from the growing global population.

According to a recent report by the World Bank, the average price for raw cotton in the first quarter of 2021 was $1.64 per kg, which is 3% higher than the average price in 2020. In the fourth quarter of 2021, prices are projected to rise to $1.72 per kg.

Despite the positive dynamics, cotton production in 2021 will not return to the record levels of 2019. High cotton yields are projected in the U.S. (+523K tonnes), Brazil (+436K tonnes) and Australia (+239K tonnes), Pakistan (+174K tonnes) due to favorable weather conditions and the increasing harvested area. China, on the other hand, will lower cotton production and give way to India as the main producer with a 24% share of the world total.

The highest growth rates for the cotton industry and demand for cotton are expected in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Turkey and China. The first four countries mentioned are becoming center points for the global textile industry due to cheap labor. In China and Turkey, the populations’ rising incomes will make production less competitive. It is assumed that domestic production will not be able to fully meet the demand of the cotton industry in China, and the country will have to increase its imports.

Strong competition from other natural and functionally similar materials such as hemp or flax as well as synthetic textile materials will hold back market growth. Hemp is more convenient to grow than cotton as it consumes 5 times less water, while cotton production is considered “environmentally harmful” because it uses large amounts of insecticides. In some countries, forced labor is supposed to be used on cotton plantations. The environmental issues and labor rights violations lead to increased consumer attention to the ethical side of the cotton market. This forces major apparel companies to shift supply chains toward cotton suppliers with a proven and traceable environmental and ethical background.

The issue of creating a cost-effective recycling technology for cotton to be sustainable is now becoming increasingly important. The production of cotton fibers involves a huge amount of water consumption, and cotton recycling will significantly reduce these volumes and maintain the stability of natural water resources.

Cotton Exports by Country

In 2020, shipments abroad of cotton lint decreased by -9.2% to 8.1M tonnes for the first time since 2016, thus ending a three-year rising trend. In value terms, cotton lint exports shrank sharply to $13.1B (IndexBox estimates) in 2020.

In 2020, the U.S. (3.8M tonnes) was the key exporter of cotton lint, comprising 47% of total exports. It was distantly followed by India (965K tonnes) and Brazil (865K tonnes), together achieving a 23% share of total exports. The following exporters – Benin (292K tonnes), Greece (289K tonnes), Cote d’Ivoire (230K tonnes), Burkina Faso (217K tonnes), Nigeria (212K tonnes), Australia (170K tonnes) and Uzbekistan (137K tonnes) – together made up 19% of total exports.

In value terms, the U.S. ($6B) remains the largest cotton lint supplier worldwide, comprising 46% of global exports. The second position in the ranking was occupied by India ($1.4B), with a 11% share of global exports. It was followed by Brazil, with a 11% share.

In 2020, the average cotton lint export price amounted to $1,616 per tonne, shrinking by -6.9% against the previous year. Average prices varied somewhat amongst the major exporting countries. In 2020, major exporting countries recorded the following prices: in Nigeria ($2,222 per tonne) and Uzbekistan ($1,823 per tonne), while India ($1,501 per tonne) and Greece ($1,558 per tonne) were amongst the lowest.

Cotton Imports by Country

In 2020, after three years of growth, there was significant decline in supplies from abroad of cotton lint, when their volume decreased by -16.8% to 7.1M tonnes. In value terms, cotton lint imports contracted sharply to $12.2B in 2020.

In 2020, China (1.9M tonnes), distantly followed by Viet Nam (945K tonnes), Pakistan (819K tonnes), Bangladesh (726K tonnes), Turkey (655K tonnes) and Indonesia (627K tonnes) represented the largest importers of cotton lint, together generating 79% of total imports. The following importers – Malaysia (247K tonnes), India (174K tonnes) and South Korea (115K tonnes) – together made up 7.5% of total imports.

In value terms, China ($3.6B) constitutes the largest market for imported cotton lint worldwide, comprising 29% of global imports. The second position in the ranking was occupied by Viet Nam ($1.4B), with a 12% share of global imports. It was followed by Pakistan, with a 11% share.

The average cotton lint import price stood at $1,706 per tonne in 2020, shrinking by -5.3% against the previous year. Average prices varied somewhat amongst the major importing countries. In 2020, major importing countries recorded the following prices: in India ($1,979 per tonne) and China ($1,929 per tonne), while Viet Nam ($1,486 per tonne) and Turkey ($1,519 per tonne) were amongst the lowest.

Source: IndexBox AI Platform