As someone relatively new to learning about sustainability and the global garment industry, I was blissfully unaware of this thing called the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA) until I read Kelsey Timmerman’s book Where Am I Wearing? a few months ago. After that, I started to see those three letters all over the place (and no, I wasn’t researching fine arts graduate programs). Turns out, it was an agreement put in place in 1974 and ended in 2005, the existence of which, and now lack thereof, affects the lives millions of garment workers around the world.
The MFA, in a nutshell, was an agreement that restricted exports of textiles to developed countries (US, Canada, and the EU) from developing countries (China, et al). Since 1974, import quotas had been applied to 73 countries in the global South, mostly in Asia, but starting in 1995 they were phased out. The quota system was abolished completely in 2005, drastically changing the game for garment-producing countries.
So what happens now?
Well, production shifts based on competitive factors. The fear in 2004 was that basically everything would move to China because of its infrastructure, abundance of raw materials, and cheap labor. And it’s true, Chinese textile exports did skyrocket. In 2000, 13% of US textile imports were from China, and in 2010 that number was 39.7%.
So how do the other countries compete with China? Continue reading