Cotton
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Cotton production

World cotton production (million tonnes), by main countries, 1980/81 - 2012/13

Source: UNCTAD secretariat, based on International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) statistics

A declining trend of cotton's share in textiles fibres since the 1970s compare to the chemical textiles (branched off oil) was stated- in 1960 the part of cotton was of 68.3% against 21,8% for chemical textiles and at the opposite the percentages were respectively of 39,7% and 57,7% in 2002. Cotton remains nevertheless by far the most important natural fibre of the 20th century (see "uses"). In a development context, cotton is crucially important for income and employment provided in its production and processing. Much of the growth of cotton production since the end of the Second World War (WWII) was due to improved yield (output per hectare more than multiplied by four quadrupled between 1945/46 and 2006/07, from 0.2 tons per hectare (t/ha) to 0.8 tons per hectare, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee - ICAC), rather than to expanded area (cultivated land increased by only 35% over the 1945/46-2006/07 period, expanding from 22.3 million hectares to 34.8 millions). The development of the cultivated area mainly occured at the end of the 1940s and remained relatively unchanged since then.

In 2007, cotton was grown in 90 countries. In 2006/07, the four main producing countries were China, India, the USA and Pakistan and accounted for approximately three quarters of world output. If we added Uzbekistan and Brasil, six countries would account for 83% of world cotton production. This concentration in cotton production, which appears to increase for several years, has to be put into perspective by considering the impact of domestic policy reforms in the largest cotton producing countries, as well as climatic and sanitary contingencies. For example, global output increased by 30% between the seasons 1983/84 and 1984/85, rising to 19.2 million tonnes up from 14.5 million tonnes. Most of the growth came from China, where increases in production (Chinese production edged upward from 4.6 million tonnes in 1983/84 to 6.3 million tonnes in the 1984/85 season) were prompted by incentive measures taken by the Government. To stimulate production growth, the Government used price incentives (price adjustment increased from 15% to 50% according to the main commodities) and above-quota premiums in cotton procurement (in China farmers were assigned quotas for delivering cotton at administered prices). Additional policy measures were taken to stimulate cotton production in the 1993/4 season, including loans at preferential rates and advance payments to cotton producers before planting. The combined effect of these policy reforms was quite remarkable. Cotton production increased by 3.7 million tonnes in the 1992/93 season to 4.34 million tonnes in 1993/94 (a 16.1% increase). The increase in production remained around the trend in the 1995/96 season, as the Government announced that it would increase cotton procurement price by 25%.

Cotton consumption

Since the beginning of the 1940s, world cotton consumption has increased at an average annual growth rate of about 2% (roughly the same as production). Growth in the demand for cotton was comparatively higher in the 1950s and 1980s, with an average growth rate of 4,6% a year during the 1950s and 3% in the 1980s. Developing countries have absorbed much of global cotton output since the end of WWII. Their share in global consumption has become even more significant since the beginning of 2000s. Developing countries accounted for approximately 78% of global cotton consumption between 1981and 1999; since 2000 their ratio has been above 80%; according to projections based on ICAC figures, in 2010 they would absorb almost 94% of global cotton output.

Cotton consumption has shifted to developing countries mainly as a reflection of rising wage levels in developed countries. In the textile sector, labour accounts for about 1/6 of production costs. This means that raising labour costs eroded the competitive edge of developed countries, and contributed to the shifting of cotton processing to low-cost economies (most notably Asia and the Maghreb, but also Africa). Following specialisation, certain countries were able to forge new patterns of comparative advantages out of competitive differences in quality. These countries built on the competitiveness and dynamism of the textile sector, which became the foundation stone of their development. Other exogenous factors (such as the development of new technologies and improved infrastructures) favoured delocalisation of production by multinational companies based in developed countries.

The main cotton producing economies also account for a large part of consumption. According to ICAC data, China, the United States, India, and Pakistan as a whole have accounted for approximately more than 55% of global cotton consumption over the period 1980 to 2008. Their overall consumption has risen considerably in volume (see figure below). For example, consumption multiplied by 3 in China and by more than 3 in India. Pakistan has had the largest increase in volume (which multiplied by 6 between 1980 and 2008) in order to responde to export-driven demand for textiles.

Cotton consumption (million tonnes), by main countries, 1980/81-2012/13

Source: UNCTAD secretariat, based on International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) statistics

International trade in cotton

Despite increasing local processing (especially in developing countries), cotton is still the main traded agricultural raw materials with more than 30% of cotton production (approximately 6.3 million tonnes of fibre) traded per annum since the beginning of the 1980s.

Exporting country
Exports (value in '000 US$)
Trading partner (% of exports)
Developing countries
Countries in transition
Developed countries
USA
3'719'793
92.5
7.5
Developing countries:
- 79% of US exports are sent to Asia (inc. China (43%), Turkey (16%), Indonesia (9%), Thailand (6%), Pakistan (5%)) and,
- 12% to Mexico.
West Africa
994'048
84.9
0.1
14.1
Developing countries:
- 80% of West African exports are sent to Asia (inc. China (36%), Indonesia (21%), Thailand (10%) and,
- 18% are traded in Africa (16% in the West African region and 12% to Morocco).
Uzbekistan
867'692
59.8
17
23.1
Developing countries:
Uzbek cotton sold to developing countries is mainly traded with Asia (99.5%) and to China (52%) and Bangladesh (35%) in the lead.
Countries in transition:
The main trading partner within the area is the Russian Federation (89%).
Developed economies :
The main destination of Uzbek exports is the EU (99%)
Australia
705'720
87.1
0.2
12.7
Developing countries:
The main trading partner of Australia in regard to its cotton is Asie (which accounts for 99.7% of Australian exports to developing countries). Within the region, the main source of imports are: Indonesia (33%), China (26%) and Thailand (16%) in the lead.
Egypt
298'690
65.5
34.5

Unlike other cotton producing / exporting countries, Egyptian exports are pretty well distributed among country groups (developing / developed). This fact may mainly been explained by the specificity of Egyptian cotton fibers.

In regard to developing countries: 98% of Egyptian cotton fibers are exported to Asia (mainly to India (34%), Pakistan (18%), China and Turkey (9% each) and Thailand (7%) in the lead. In regard to exports to developed countries, the European Union is the main market for Egyptian cotton and accounts for 56% of Egyptian exports to developed countries.

Source: UNCTAD statistical data

With 3.7 billion dollars and almost 3 million tons of cotton exported over the 2002-2006 period (around 40% of world exports over the period, the United States are by large the dominant exporter with regard to cotton fibre.

In terms of direction of trade flows, 73% of US cotton exports went to developing Asia in the 2002-2006 period, the remain went to mainly to Mexico (11%). The United States is indeed the single largest exporter of raw cotton to Mexico, which has relied heavily on US imports to supply its export assembly plants, known as Maquiladoras. Up to 1992 these transactions were only recorded by the Central Bank of Mexico. Starting from 1992, they have been incorporated into official international trade statistics, which explains the (apparent) sharp rise in Mexico's imports from the USA since then.

Breakdown of EU imports (UE25), by country of origin, avg 2002 - 2006

Source: UNCTAD statistical data

Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has been the second major cotton exporter (third if West Africa is considered as a group), with 870 million dollars of cotton exported annually between 2002 and 2006 (about 825 000 tons). Uzbekistan accounted for 10% of world exports over the period 2002-2006.

Seed cotton contribution to foreign exchange earnings
(relative to commody exports)

1st
2nd
3rd
4th
5th

- Tuvalu (91.2%)
- Benin (86.1%)
- Mali (75.6%)
- Burkina Faso (67.6%)
- Uzbekistan (37.8%)
- Togo (31.3%)
- Kyrgyzstan (27%)

- Tokelau (25%)
- Zimbabwe (20.5%)
- American Samoas (12.3%)
- Tajikistan (8.6%)
- Turkmenistan (3.1%)
- Chad (3%)
- Burundi (2.2%)

- Sudan (17.7%)
- India (8.3%)
- Pakistan (6.7%)
- Malawi (2.9%)
- Central African Republic (2.4%)
- Zambia (2.2%)

- Tanzania (10.6%)
- Afghanistan (7.3%)
- Barbados (4.8%)
- Cameroon (4.2%)
- Syria (3.8%)
- Azerbaijan (0.9%)
- Nigeria (0.9%)

- Greece (9.8%)
- Senegal (5.4%)
- Paraguay (3.1%)
- Côte d'Ivoire (2.9%)
- Mauritius (2.7%)
- Mozambique (2.5%)
- Gambia (2%)

Source: UNCTAD Secretariat

From 2004/05 to 2007/08, West African countries together accounted for 16% of world exports. As a group, they ranked second after the United States (~38%). Exports earnings are important for African countries, which export more than 80% of their domestic production on average.

Evolution of the share of selected regions in world cotton fibre imports, decades 1980 to 2010

Source: UNCTAD secretariat, based on ICAC statistics

Since the early 1980s, the market situation in regard to cotton imports has been changing. They have become less concentrated and the trend is expected to continue over the time. The number of cotton importing countries rose from 85 in 1980 to 150 in 2006 (according to FAO statistics). Moreover, the share of traditional cotton importers has fallen over the past decades. This is for instance the case of the European Union, of East Asia & former USSR countries. Indeed, if these country groups shared more than the two thirds of world cotton imports during the 1980s, their combined import share may be divided by two over the 2000s (33%).

It is also interesting to point out that the share of China (Mainland) has been multiplied by almost 6 between the 1980s and 2000s. This increase has been particularly important in the course of the recent years and especially since the beginning of the decade 2000. In fact, Chinese imports increased from 52 000 tons in 2000/01 to 2,5 million tons over the 2007/08 crop season. This increase may continue in the years to come according to ICAC forecasts reaching more than 3.8 million tons over the 2012/13 crop year (about 46% of world imports - against less than 1% in 2000/01).

is in 2005/2006 the firt importer of cotton. Turkey remained the second largest importer for the fourth consecutive season with 8% of world imports (50% from United States, the rest is mainly shared between Greece and Syria).

Fair Trade Cotton Market

Max Havelaar, one of the main fair trade associations, launched, in March 2005, the first fair trade label for a non-food commodity: cotton. To achieve its aim, Max Havelaar has worked with small producers from Cameroon, Mali and Senegal (about 20'000) organised in association and certified by the international standardisation body: FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International ). Cotton growers from Burkina Faso are expected to join this enterprise by the end of 2005. Then, cotton farmers from this country are likely to account for the greatest share of the global fair trade cotton production.

In order to implement this new fair trade segment, Max Havelaar entered into partnerships with the French company DAGRIS and benefited from the financial support of several bodies (e.g. French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for the development of enterprise*). Fair trade cotton products are sold off by using different brand names (e.g. Armor Lux, Célio, Cora/influx, Eider, Hacot, Colombier, Hydra, Kindy, La redoute et TDV industries). In order to benefit from better price (including fair trade premium) for cottonseeds (which corresponds to, according to Max Havelaar, an increase of 46% compared to the price paid for the traditional cottonseeds originated from Senegal and 26% compared to the one from Mali, over the period 2004/05 and is predicted to reach a price of 60% more for 2005/06) producers must be certified (costs assumed by them). They also have to meet particular specifications (e.g. use cotton-made bags rather than polypropylene ones, ensure a better sorting of the cotton seeds). Moreover, the textile fabrics where "fair tarde cotton" is produced are submitted to audit in order to check whether the WLO (World Labour Organisation) conventions are respected.

Price granted under fair trade cotton seeds scheme

Source: UNCTAD Secretariat according to an article issued by Marchés tropicaux on March 11 2005

The first conclusions drawn in Mali after two years of fair trade cotton presence are positive. Indeed, in the Djidjan region, the extra income enabled famers among others to buy new agricultural material, cattle, scholastic furniture, enroll children to school and pay teachers' wage.

For further information, see:
- Max Havelaar
- FLO
- DAGRIS
- Centre for the development of enterprise (CDE)