Cotton is a natural fibre and is the world’s most important textile raw material. Cotton is named after the seeds of the cotton plant, around which the fibre grows in balls. Cotton has been used to manufacture textiles in Asia since 3,000 B.C. via India, China and Byzantium cotton finally made its way to Western Europe, but it was not until the 14th century that cotton was processed for the first time in Germany by the Fugger family of merchants in Augsburg. Clothing made from cotton was not produced on a large scale in Germany until the mechanisation of the textile industry in the 19th century, however. Today the fibre is still the most important raw material used in textile production.
This is due to the specific structure of the cotton fibres, which is very well suited to textile production. The quality of the cotton increases as the length, thinness and strength of the cotton fibres increase. The seed fibres must first be processed into thread before they can be used to manufacture clothing in pure form or in blended fabrics such as viscose or linen. Cotton is not only used in clothing, but also for medical products.
The most important cotton producers are China, the USA, India and Pakistan. In Europe the only country with a cotton production industry worthy of note is Greece. The largest exports of cotton go to China and Indonesia. The steadily increasing supply of cotton has led to a drop in prices in recent years. From over 100 cents in 1995 the price has dropped to below 30 cents in recent years, and is now at the level of the last global economic crisis.
The most important trading venues for trading in cotton are the New York Board of Trade (New York Cotton Exchange), the Central Japan Commodity Exchange, the Osaka Mercantile Exchange and the Bolsa der Mercadorias & Futuros.