The Chinese technical textile market has been enjoying growth in recent years.
The Chinese technical textile market has been enjoying growth in recent years.

Technical textile is the growth engine of global textile market, gaining wider applications in many industries. The Chinese technical textile market has been growing rapidly in recent years, but the overall development still falls behind the global trend, presenting huge potential to be unlocked.

A market with 9.1% growth

According to the latest statistics released by the China Nonwovens & Industrial Textiles Association
(CNITA), the main business operating revenue of the large scale technical textile enterprises in China amounted to RMB308.197 billion in 2016, an increase of 5.8% when compared with the previous year. Meanwhile, the total profit amounted to RMB19.091 billion, representing an increase of 8.3% when compared with the previous year.

The growth of the industrial added value of the technical textile sector was 9.1%, while the growth of the entire textile industry was just 4.9%. The investment in fixed assets in the technical sector grew 4.51% year-on-year in 2016.

Both import and export report decline

According to the statistics released by the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, the exports of technical textiles from China in 2016 amounted to US$23.61 billion, representinga year-on-year decrease of 7.42%. For imports of the same category, the amount decreased 6.3% to US$6.17 billion from the previous year.
Nonwovens for healthcare products are main export items for Chinese technical textile sector. (Source: Berry Plastics)
The main items of the technical textile sector for export are medical and healthcare textiles, industrial coated/laminated textiles, nonwoven fabrics, canvas, threads (cords), synthetic leather and base cloth, and packaging textiles. Among these items, the export value of nonwoven fabrics grew 1.5% in 2016 while the export value of all other items fell at different levels. For export volume, most items could maintain certain level of growth. 

For application sectors, technical textiles for transportation grew rapidly by value and volume, recording growth of 11.8% and 15.1% respectively.

The USA, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and India are the biggest export markets of technicaltextiles from China, contributing 38% of the total export value. Among the top 10 countries and regions for export value, only Philippines reported a growth of 2.06%. Export to the USA, for example, the export value fell by 5.04%, which was the first time inlast several years. The exports to Japan and Vietnam also fell by 2.02% and 5.08% in value respectively.

The continuous decline in export prices is a critical factor for the decline in export of the Chinese technical textile sector. The prices of main items droppedin 2016 with the prices of threads (cords), synthetic leather and base cloth, and packaging textile dropped more than 10%. The price of nonwoven fabrics also dropped almost 10%.

Clustering of the technical textile sector

According to China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC), 13 nonwovens and technical textile clusters have been participating in the pilot project of industrial clustering launched since2002. These clusters cover medical and healthcare textiles, civil engineering textiles, construction textiles, textiles for filtering and separation, synthetic leather and base cloth, threads (cords) and mesh, ribbon textiles, and elastic canvas.Most of them are located in Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong, Hubei, Fujian, and Hebei provinces.

An outlook from a global point of view

In China, the technical textilesaccounted for a small proportion of the three main categories of textile processing. In 2015, the ratio of fiber processing volume of apparel, home textiles and technical textiles was 46.628.125.3, while the ratio in 2010 was 512920. It can be seen that the proportion of technical textile grew about 5% in 5 years, showing that the Chinese technical textile market has been gaining importance.

However, the overall development of Chinese technical textile market still falls behind the global trend. According to the forecast of the United Nations, the total volume of textile fiber processing in 2050 will reach 253 million tons in which 67.4% will be technical textiles. Thus, there is huge potential to be untapped for the Chinese technical market.

In addition,Chinese technical textile enterprises also fall behind their overseas counterparts in production scale, sales, product range, comparative advantages and business development strategies at the moment.

Development Conference sheds light on development

In May 2016, the important conference The China Nonwovens & Industrial Textiles Development Conference was held in Guangzhou, China. During the conference, famous academicians from Chinese Academy of Engineering presented their findings and insights on the development of the Chinese technical textile market.

Academician Yao Mu remarked that the Chinese technical textile market has been growing in recent years, in particularwith civil engineering textiles, reinforced composite fiber materials and healthcare textiles. These products feature improved strength, highresistance to high temperature, high biocompatibility, and are environmentally friendly. He emphasized that the demand for these high-end textileswill further go up in the future.

In the wake of increased sustainability, innovative technical textiles with high-performance and functional fiber materials will be good substitutes for conventional materials, he explained. Therefore, Chinese technical textile sector should focus on developing “green” and functional products which will gain wider applications.
Technical textiles are more widely used in the automotive industry.
Meanwhile, Academician Jiang Shicheng pinpointed the huge potential of technical textiles in the automotive industry.

Lightweighting technology is an integral part of the “Made in China 2025” Initiative. For this technology, carbon fiber is the material of choice in overall performance.

According to him, the global production volume of carbon fiber was 128,000 tons in 2015. In the same period, the production capacity of carbon fiber in China was 15,000 tons, and the actual production volume was just4000 tons. The main reason was Chinadid not have large-tow carbon fiber production technology and corresponding industry chain.

In the automotive industry, lightweighting is a mega trend. For this reason, the establishment of high-performance fiber industry chain for automotive industry in China will be critical, representing many opportunities to the technical textile sector.

Additional effort required for achieving the goal

The “Guidelines for the Development of Technical Textiles in the “13th Five-Year Plan” is a list of opinions put together by the Chinese government, industry experts,renownedscholars and entrepreneurs for the development of the Chinese technical textile sector. They conducted analysis for the problems inherent to the industry, and proposed clear objectives for the development and innovation of different kinds of technical textiles. They stated the expectation of the creation of necessary market mechanism as well.

In addition, forward looking vision was emphasized as the reference for the sectorand as the guide for local governments in mapping out economic development policies.

The objectives proposed are very clear:

- In the period of 2016-2020, the industrial added value of the large-scale technical textile enterprises should achieve an average annual growth rate of 9%;

- The total volume of fiber processing in the sector should achieve an average annual growth rate of 8%;

- The labor productivity should achieve an average annual growth rate of at least 8%;

By the year 2020, the volume of fiber processing for technical textiles should account for 33% of the textile industry;

- The top 100 key enterprises should invest 2.5% of their sales revenue in research and development, which is 0.6% higher than in 2015;

The technologies of textiles for environmental protection, civil engineering and construction, andbio-based functions have to meet the global standard;

- Efforts should be madeto develop 5 to 8 industrial clusters valued at RMB10 billion or more;

- To form 3 to 5 big nonwovens and technical textile enterprises with international influence

Industrial clustering
is one of the effective ways to boost the development of technical textile sector in China, according to some industry experts. In this way, the local government can supervise enterprises located in a specific geographicregion in more efficient manner under applicable policies.

or achieving the aforementioned objectives, the Guidelines listed five missions for the technical textile sector as well as the government bodies of different levels. They are:

- Drive innovation intensively, improve systems for innovation;

- Strengthen supply chain structure;

- Build higher quality standards, form renowned brands;

- Transform sector structure, increase competitiveness of enterprises;

- Promote sustainability, develop circular economy.

Moreover, s
ome industry experts advise Chinese technical textile enterprises to learn from top-notch globalenterprises. This will be a crucial mission for them to excel themselves.

Technical textile sector worldwide on a growth curve 

According to the Euratex
(The European Apparel and Textile Confederation), the production of nonwovens rose by 3% and that of technical and industrial textiles by 6% in the period from January to May 2016 compared to the same period the year before.

The markets in the leading non-European textile nations are also good. For example, technical textiles account for about 37% of overall US textile production at present. India expects production to grow from the current level of approx. US$18 billion to 26 billion by 2017.

The turnover of the German textile and fashion industry rose by around 2% in 2015 compared to the previous year, according to the German Textile and Fashion Association. Particularly successful were textiles and technical textiles with a growth rate in excess of 3%.

As said by the Confederation of the German Textile and Fashion Industry (textile+mode), the textile and apparel industry with more than 130,000 employees, 1,400 companies and an annual turnover of around 32 billion euros is the second largest consumer goods industry in Germany. The growth of German textile and apparel industry is primarily driven by technical textiles.

The Germany’s Commerzbank forecasts the global market for conventional textiles will expand and be worth approx. US$160 billion by 2018. In the case of nonwovens, the global market is expected to grow in terms of sales to over US$42 billion in 2017.