Cotton, the fabric of our lives, the canvas for our favorite concert t-shirt, and one of the United States’ biggest export commodities. That was the focus of my eye-opening recent visit to Austin, Texas and the American Cotton Shippers Association (ACSA) conference.
This ubiquitous and often underestimated commodity accounts for millions of tons in exports to overseas destinations every year where it is spun into yarns and eventually ends up as our new favorite t-shirts, jeans and more.
I know. Cotton sounds simple. But believe me, it’s not. That’s why I’ve made it a point to get schooled on the ins and outs of the cotton trade.
The start of my fact-finding journey that eventually led me to Austin, began when two significant cotton exporters joined NYSHEX and quickly became two of our most interesting success stories. The experience gave me a crash course in the fascinating world of cotton. It also eventually led to me being introduced to the American Cotton Shippers Association (ACSA) who just so happened to be holding their annual convention in the coming weeks – nothing was keeping me away.
This year’s convention was held in Austin, TX – a town that takes a lot of pride in their world-dominating reputation as the music capital of the world. That title coincides with having the highest per-capita concert tee collection in the world. So what better place for a cotton convention?
All of the major cotton exporters and trusted supply chain partners were in Austin. We learned about the great boom in demand for US Cotton, the investments and quality standards the US has implemented to ensure ours is always in demand globally, as well as trends in sourcing.
Let me tell you, ACSA meetings are a place where real progress gets made! One full morning was devoted to setting standards and expectations for service in the transportation arena. A lot of bright minds from the world of ocean shipping, insurance, trucking, terminals and brokers were in that room discussing the challenges facing cotton shippers and devising real solutions to address them.
One of our carrier partners, Matt Monzalvo who manages Gulf Export Sales for CMA-CGM said it best: “No other industry prides itself more for on-time delivery than cotton.” It is truly important that the US ships the best cotton, at a fair price, and that it arrives on time. They’re competing with the world as well as managing letters of credit and phytosanitary certificate regulations.
There were many pain points mentioned such as frequent changes to earliest receipt dates, trucking capacity and bill of lading turn times. The majority of the pain points I heard however, all seem to stem from unenforceable contracts and uncertainty as to what freight will show up. I heard many shippers speak to their struggle of obtaining a booking for export during the coming cotton season. There were two terminal operators in attendance who said that vessel rollings are at all-time highs. Then there’s the equipment component to worry about. The scary part is that we aren’t even in the peak of cotton which will come later this year!
It was so great to have two of our carrier partners attend meetings with cotton exporters alongside me. They were quick to point out instances in which their shippers had asked for additional space and they were unable to guarantee it. They spoke to how their Trade teams are allocating a portion of each vessel to guaranteed contracts that they are willing to stand behind and prioritize. It’s not changing entire procurement strategies. It’s just having a plan B, and it sounded like every shipper in that room wanted one.
I believe that progress is always possible with better understanding—and I definitely have a better feel for cotton as a result of attending the conference. Team NYSHEX will leverage what we’ve learned as we continue to work with our six carrier members to build inventory to meet the needs of cotton shippers. We are all about ensuring our members’ shipments depart on time and in full!
We’ve got numerous offers specific for cotton shippers, including ones to China, Vietnam, India and Pakistan. Learn all about how NYSHEX benefits cotton shippers by clicking below: