Ten years of the 'Belt and Road' initiative, textile enterprises weave a sustainable new Silk Road

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2023 marks the tenth anniversary of the "Belt and Road" cooperation initiative. Over the past decade, global collaboration has deepened, and broad consensus has been reached. The textile industry, as a global sector, has played a pivotal role in fostering South-South and North-South cooperation, emerging as a significant participant and contributor to the "Belt and Road" initiative.

The recently held third "Belt and Road" International Cooperation Summit Forum was the most prestigious international event within the "Belt and Road" framework. On the 18th, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, in conjunction with the National Development and Reform Commission, will host a high-level forum with the theme "Building a Green Silk Road to Promote Harmonious Coexistence Between People and Nature." The objective is to facilitate the sharing of ideas and practices in building a shared vision of ecological civilization and green development among participating countries, as well as to discuss the progress and achievements of the "Green Silk Road" construction in the ten years since the "Belt and Road" initiative was introduced. The aim is to promote global sustainable development with an emphasis on green, low-carbon strategies.

This article will provide insights into the development, investment, and green transformation of the textile and apparel industry within the context of the "Belt and Road" initiative.

Image source:http://www.beltandroadforum.org/

1. "The Belt and Road Initiative" and the Textile and Apparel Industry

The "Belt" refers to the strategic proposal put forth by President Xi Jinping in September 2013 during a significant speech at the University of Kazakhstan, which aimed at jointly building the "Silk Road Economic Belt." The "Road" refers to the strategic vision of the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road," which President Xi Jinping introduced in October 2013 during a crucial address at the Indonesian Parliament. "The Belt and Road Initiative" seeks to establish a more open and secure cooperative strategy, closely linking the economies of the Eurasian continent through long-term cooperation. It represents China's approach to improving the global economy, promoting worldwide shared development, and advancing the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

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The "Belt and Road" initiative, particularly in the textile and clothing industry, primarily focuses on investments in textile development in China and the countries along the routes, mainly in Central and South Asia. The "Belt and Road" project has provided new opportunities for Chinese textile enterprises to expand globally, accelerating the global footprint of China's textile industry. From 2013 to 2021[1], the industry's total foreign investment reached $11.08 billion, with approximately $4.85 billion invested in countries and regions along the "Belt and Road," accounting for 44% of the industry's total global investment. Among these, Vietnam attracted the most investment, followed by Ethiopia, Cambodia, Myanmar, and other countries. The textile and clothing sector has become a leading and exemplary industry under the "Belt and Road" initiative[2].

In addition to the global expansion in countries along the "Belt and Road," China's textile and clothing industry has shown a recent trend of domestic development, with a shift from the eastern and central regions to the western areas. The resource advantages in western regions have attracted the relocation of the textile and clothing industry from the eastern and central regions. For instance, Xinjiang, with its abundant cotton resources and lower labor costs, has become a notable center for the textile industry. The "Belt and Road" initiative has opened multiple avenues for Xinjiang, transforming it from a remote area into a core hub[3]. In recent years, the cotton textile industry in Xinjiang has experienced rapid growth, with continuous progress in industrial clustering, leading to an increasing export of cotton textile products to Central Asia and European countries.

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Overall, as a major player in textile production and export, China has strategically expanded its global presence in the textile industry, thanks to the policy support of the "Belt and Road" initiative. This has not only improved resource allocation but also enhanced the competitiveness and stability of the textile industry's supply chain. Concurrently, there is a noticeable trend in domestic textile industry expansion towards the western regions, focusing on technology, capital, and equipment transfer, which bodes well for the high-quality development of China's textile and clothing industry along the entire value chain.

2. Investment Cases of Chinese Textile Enterprises along the Belt and Road Initiative

Lower costs, superior resources, and stronger policies are all driving factors for Chinese companies to invest overseas. This is beneficial for businesses as it helps reduce costs, address their weaknesses, and facilitates the extension of industries towards higher-end segments, fostering the growth of multinational textile conglomerates.

——The Director of the Textile Department of the Consumer Goods Industry Division of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Mr. Cao Tingrui.

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As Raw Material and Labor Costs Rise Gradually, Global Resource Allocation Becomes the Choice for Textile Companies to Address Domestic Cost Increases and Industry Transformation. More and more companies are seizing the opportunity to 'go global' and have embarked on the 'Belt and Road' express for accelerated growth. Below are some investment cases of Chinese textile companies along the 'Belt and Road'.

Image source: Compiled by CarbonNewture

The implementation of the "Belt and Road" initiative has provided new opportunities for China and its partner countries and regions to expand their cooperation in the textile and apparel industry and jointly build a sustainable global supply chain in this sector. Examples of active participation in the "Belt and Road" initiative and achieving mutual benefits can be seen in projects such as Tianhong Group's operations in the Haihe Industrial Zone in Vietnam and Daiyin Group's textile project in Malaysia.

3. Ten Years of Development Upholding the Green Foundation

Over the past decade, in the process of jointly building the "Belt and Road" initiative, China has consistently emphasized the integration of green development principles. While striving for its own green development, China has engaged in extensive and diverse exchanges and cooperation in the field of green development with countries and regions participating in the "Belt and Road" initiative.

Currently, most countries and regions worldwide have set forth future goals for carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions. This presents the "Green Silk Road" project with more stringent constraints and challenges related to climate change. Therefore, the future Silk Road will inevitably be built upon a foundation of green development, with a focus on not only controlling carbon emissions but also balancing economic benefits. Chinese companies are actively expanding overseas industrial opportunities through low-carbon and green technology exports. Simultaneously, they must align with the green standards of partner countries in the "Belt and Road" initiative to promote the development of an innovative "Belt and Road" green standards system.

Leveraging the political and resource advantages of the "Belt and Road" initiative, Chinese textile companies should harness their regional strengths, seize opportunities, and drive the integrated development of the textile and apparel industry while promoting its green upgrade. They should strive to create new foreign trade models for the textile and apparel sector, expand into diverse markets to reduce dependence on a single foreign trade partner. Furthermore, they should enhance the industry's digital capabilities, extend and refine the industrial supply chain, and establish a new, resilient, and competitive green supply chain, ensuring its safety and stability.