Regional trade and production blocs in a global industry: towards a comparative framework for research
While apparel manufacturing is often considered the quintessential global industry, the regional dimension of trade and production in the textile and clothing sector is less widely noted. In this paper I discuss two macroregional production blocs: North America (defined as the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean Basin countries) and Greater Europe [which includes the European Union (EU), Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey, and North Africa]. Analyzing what opportunities regionalization might provide is particularly relevant given China’s increasing dominance of both the EU and US import markets in the post-Multifibre Arrangement period. Drawing on the global commodity chains literature, I discuss three dimensions around which cross-regional comparative research on the European and North American apparel sectors can be organized: (1) production model; (2) institutional context; and (3) development outcomes. Several similarities between these production blocs are noted, particularly with regard to the intraregional division of labor expressed by networks connecting firms in higher-wage and lower-wage countries and the coexistence of assembly subcontracting and full-package manufacturing in both regions, but differences include the existence in Europe of a stronger textile base and a more expansive regionalization strategy (as suggested by the Euro –Mediterranean Partnership), which may strengthen the competitiveness of the Greater European bloc vis-à-vis its North American counterpart.
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