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Demand for Gloves in the United States - 2020 Figures

Recently the US International Trade Commission published country's import figures for the fourth quarter of 2020. You can review the figures by category here. The categories we are interested in are:

4015.19.05 - Medical gloves of vulcanized rubber other than hard rubber

4015.19.10 - Seamless gloves of vulcanized rubber other than hard rubber, other than surgical or medical gloves

Note that numbers are given in "dozen pair" units. One dozen is equal to 12 units, so to adjust the numbers by individual pieces, we need to multiply by 24.

The total imports of gloves in the US for 2020 reached 97.6 billion pieces. This is an increase of 77.5% from the 2019 imports of 55 billion pieces. For the 3 quarters of the pandemic - Q2, Q3, and Q4, the imports increased by 101%. The largest increase year-on-year was recorded in Q4 2020 when the imports of gloves increased by 176.8% and reached 39.7 billion pieces. This figure represents 70% of the production capacity of Malaysia, according to Margma's estimates (source).

Malaysia was by far the largest importer, as 58.4% of all imports of gloves to the United States came from our country, or 57 billion gloves. This figure is slightly lower than last year's 63.5%, likely mainly due to the ban of imports imposed on Top Glove in July 2020, as well as due to factory closures in the country. Nevertheless, this is still a year-on-year increase in imports coming from Malaysia of 63.2%.

The biggest beneficiary from the import ban on Top Glove, and the factory closures in Malaysia, was China. The country came in as a distant second, contributing 19.7% of the glove imports in the US in 2020, with a total of 19.2 billion pieces. This is an increase of 218.2% as compared to 2019. This also comes after imports of gloves from China dropped by 39.2% in Q1 2020, likely due to the trade disputes between the two countries.

The third largest importer of gloves to the US was Thailand. Our northern neighbour sent 14.2 billion pieces of gloves to the US, or 14.5% of the country's imports. This is a 55.3% increase from 2019. Overall, Malaysia, China, and Thailand were responsible for 92.6% of all the rubber glove imports in the United States in 2020, up from 91.1% in 2019.

Another thing that is important to note is that the imports of rubber gloves for non-medical purposes increased by 85.5%, or more than imports of medical gloves (increase by 73.4%). Imports of medical gloves stood at 63.1 billion pieces, while imports of non-medical gloves came at 34.5 billion pieces. China contributed a bigger percentage of the medical glove imports (20.4%) as compared to the non-medical glove imports (18.4%). The overreliance of imports of PPE from China was explicitly mentioned in a recently letter a group of US Senators sent to Joe Biden (see here). The US concerns are predominantly related to medical glove reliance as this item is part of the country's strategic stockpile for emergency preparedness (see here). Thus, it is very likely that the new capacities that will get commissioned in the US (25 billion gloves per year by June 2022), which will be mostly comprise medical glove production, will predominantly be replacing the currently incoming imports from China (see here). A reminder that the imports from China were decreasing year-on-year before the pandemic started.

A few conclusions based on this data and previously available information:

- In the 3 months of the pandemic the imports of rubber gloves in the US have doubled. This has happened at an accelerating pace, reaching 39.7 billion pieces in the last quarter of 2020. As more contagious variants of COVID-19 become widespread in the country, and as the vaccination campaign is not expected to result in herd immunity anytime soon, these import numbers are likely to be sustained in the next few quarters (see here).

- Moving forward, the usage of rubber gloves for non-medical purposes is expected to increase more rapidly than their usage in medical environment (see here). A study conducted in March-April 2020 (at the beginning of the pandemic) by the University of California, Berkeley found that a change in workplace health and safety procedures, largely driven by changes in the guidance issued by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has resulted in glove usage requirement implementation in every observed sector except for convenience stores and gas stations. The increase in percentage of facilities requiring glove usage was highest in the food handling industries (coffee shops, fast food, restaurants) and in the hotel industry (source).

- The US started relying more on China imports, in particular for medical gloves. It has been mentioned a number of times by high officials in the US that the country is not comfortable with that and that it is looking at ways to change the status quo. Thus, the increase in imports from China is likely largely driven by urgent need as the existing major importers (Malaysia and Thailand) are unable to satisfy the increased demand. Therefore, that is likely to not represent a long-term pattern. The incoming extra production capacities in the US are most likely meant to replace imports of medical gloves (and other categories of PPE) from China.

(Hat tip to super_newbie for pointing me to this data.)

Important disclaimer: Any views expressed are for informational and discussion purposes only. None of this information is intended as, and must not be understood as, a source of advice. It is imperative that you always do your own research and that you make any decisions based on your personal situation and your own personal understanding.


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