China’s position as the top global cotton importer is weakening as cotton shipments flow into flourishing textile industries in competing countries, according to a new report from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Soon after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, the report states, its textile manufacturers became the world’s leading importers of cotton. However, following years of rising production costs, volatility from government intervention in the market, and government caps on the volume of imports, China’s cotton imports dropped from their peak of 24.5 million bales in 2011 to 4.4 million bales in 2015, although they rebounded to 9.5 million bales in 2021.

Over the same period, competing countries such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey have expanded their textile industries and boosted cotton imports, which combined now exceed those of China. In fact, ERS projects that cotton imports into these countries will rise by 8.1 million bales from 2021 to 2030 while China’s imports will rise by 3.5 million bales. By 2030 these five destinations are projected to account for 47 percent of world cotton imports while China accounts for just 24 percent.

According to the report, this increasing geographic diversification of global cotton demand has helped U.S. cotton exports remain relatively robust, and ERS projects that those exports will rise by about 1.4 million bales between 2021 and 2030.

For more information on this and other trade-related issues affecting textiles and apparel, please contact attorney Elise Shibles at (415) 490-1403 or via email

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