We used to lead the world in the development of electronics; no more. In fact we used to dominate the world in manufacturing of virtually every product you can imagine. Not so many years ago we led the world in production of textiles; but that’s now a distant memory as the Far East has taken over the manufacturing of nearly everything we wear. The one thing we’ve had going for use is that we’ve been among the world’s largest producers of cotton; but even that title may mean little if the Chinese have their way.

Currently the Unites States is the third-largest producer of cotton and we know it’s the main component of a majority of apparel products. But even with our stature as a producer of cotton we may collapse under the weight of China, also one of the top producers of cotton, that has become a controlling player in the world cotton market.

Because we don’t manufacture many apparel products any longer, most cotton we produce ends up being loaded into a container and shipped overseas.

What much of the world hasn’t noticed is while China has turned to the U.S. for millions of bales of cotton for the past three years, rather than consuming that cotton and keeping the demand high, the Chinese have stored it, gradually building its stock up which now measures more than 60 percent of the world’s inventory.

The Chinese now have nearly a year’s supply of cotton in their warehouses and at any moment the world’s largest consumer of cotton could simply stop buying and begin consuming their stocks; if that were to happen the world cotton market would collapse and the U.S. market might never recover.

Experts predict that China eventually will have cornered the world cotton market.

“They have a lot of control over those stocks, obviously, and that’s having a big impact on our prices,” cotton economist Don Shurley said.

China’s cotton reserves are at a record high 10 million tons, causing U.S. prices per pound to fall from 88 cents in 2012 to 71 cents in 2013. Cotton prices averaged about $2 a pound in 2010. The U.S. crop also is projected to fall from about 17 million bales in 2012 to 14 million in 2013.

The writing is on the wall. China will eventually drive the price down to 50 cents a pound at which point farmers will just park their equipment and grow something else.

U.S. consumption of raw cotton has dropped dramatically over the years, now measuring only a third of what was in the ’90s. With much of the production of clothing now located overseas there is no internal demand for unprocessed cotton. In a nation that counted cotton among its key products the loss of garment production teamed up with a loss of control over the world cotton market signals further decay in the American export markets.

In the ’70s and ’80s, 70 out of every 100 bales were used domestically; now, 80 out of every 100 are being shipped overseas. And the decrease in the demand for cotton is being felt across the nation. The National Cotton Council predicts there will be 25 percent less cotton acreage in 2013. But China, the world’s largest producer, largest consumer and largest importer of cotton is the only thing keeping the U.S. cotton market above water. At some point in the near future the Chinese will stop buying and when they do the U.S. cotton market will cease to exist.

While we spin our wheels, no pun intended, on electric vehicles and solar cells that the Chinese can already produce cheaper than us, we looked puzzled over yet another historically American product slowly being taken from us by China.


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