There is no question on how important cotton is to Egypt’s textile industry: it contributes to around 3% of the country’s GDP, employs 2.25 million- one third of its industrial labour force – to meet its demand of 180 000 tons. But after years of trade wars between US and China, and now a global pandemic, the cotton industry in Egypt will need time to recover from its losses. In this fourth part of our series on the impact of COVID-19 on Egypt, we see how its prized ‘white gold’ will fare.

This is part 4 of a series.

Egypt’s exports in cotton contributed $471.63m during 2019 to its GDP. But this ‘white gold’ for the country has taken a major hit, reducing production by 30% to 40%.

 

Even though Cairo has not imposed a full lockdown, as was seen in Nigeria or South Africa, its obligatory curfew and new health measures have affected cotton production and local demand. Egypt produces around 200,000 tons of cotton yearly and imports another 200,000 that it processes before exporting.

 

The trade war launched in 2018 by US President Donald Trump, set tariffs and trade barriers on China against what was referred to as: “The greatest theft in the world”. Since then, cotton has taken a drop in prices plummeting from 15 to 20% globally. “When things started to stabilise in January 2020, nobody knew it was going to last for less than a month, [after] the pandemic hit” says Dr. Mohamed Negm, of the Cotton Research Institute  and General Coordinator of the 13th Inter- Regional Network.

 

The WSJ reports cotton sold at $0.705 per pound of cotton on 29 January vs $0.6684 on 3 February; a drop of 23%.  “The market, after COVID-19, collapsed. The three main cotton consumers – Europe, the US and Japan – were all under lockdown, which means nobody bought clothes” explains Negm.

Hit from the pandemic

 

The International Textile Manufacturers Federation did a survey on 700 companies, and orders for cotton were cancelled from March, April, and May. This means cancellations in 2020 could reach 31%, a total loss of $300bn for the global textile industry. “[The] summer is usually high for sales, but this summer will be different after COVID,” says Negm.