Cotton: the white gold of Egypt
11 July 2017

Egypt is the world’s leading long-staple cotton producer. This especially precious cotton grows only in the Nile river area and yields a highly resistant, soft yarn that absorbs colour well and makes it brighter. Due to these unique characteristics, Egyptian cotton is highly sought after in the textile industry, and its quality and luxury has been renowned throughout the world since the beginning of the 1800s.

Production and exportation of this ‘white gold’, a true commodity that has a pivotal role in the country’s economy, were damaged by the 25 January revolution (2011) that – after creating a security vacuum and a relaxation of regulations – caused the quality of the cotton to decline. To correct this decline, over the last two years the Egyptian government has adopted measures to restore seed purity and cotton quality.

According to a Central Arbitration and Testing General Organisation analysis of the physical properties of the fibres of some Egyptian cotton varieties, the length, strength, resistance and colour have improved in cotton produced in the 2016/2017 financial year compared to 2015/2016. This improvement has caused an increase in demand for and prices of Egyptian cotton in local and international markets, a trend that will continue into the 2017/2018 financial year. This recovery of competitiveness of Egyptian cotton contributed to the Central Bank’s decision at the beginning of November to float the Egyptian pound.

Indeed, the Egyptian cotton industry is showing signs of recovery. The most recent data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (which was later re-released by the Addis Ababa ICE office) show that the exportation of Egyptian cotton increased by 63.9% in the first quarter of the 2016/2017 planting season. Experts and farmers attribute the increase in demand to the extremely competitive market prices seen in 2016/2017 as a result of the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, and to the worldwide crackdown on fake cotton, which followed the counterfeit cotton scandal of 2016.

The scandal (covered by major news sources including The Guardian) concerned fake Egyptian cotton being placed on the market. In August 2016, an American retail chain accused Indian textile giant Welspun of using a more affordable, non-Egyptian cotton in 750,000 sheets and pillowcases falsely labelled as “Egyptian cotton”. Welspun, which sells its products in more than 50 countries, was put under investigation.

Following this news, which Welspun itself confirmed, international retailers began to more carefully monitor their 100% Egyptian cotton-labelled products by demanding that producers provide cotton certifications.

In an attempt to suppress fraud and ensure quality, the Cotton Egypt Association began granting licences to use the Egyptian cotton logo to suppliers and producers worldwide, thus certifying the authenticity of the cotton fabrics through DNA analysis. The Association estimates that in 2016 approximately 90% of global supplies of Egyptian cotton was counterfeit.

In February 2017, the Cotton Egypt Association entered into an agreement with Welspun to promote and market Egyptian cotton products following certification of the chain of production. Under the agreement, the two organisations will cooperate to create programmes to promote the Egyptian cotton logo on retail markets worldwide.