Garment export restrictions dog mainland
Toh Han Shih
Post-quota WTO anti-surge mechanism makes India an attractive alternative
Since global textile quotas ended at the start of the year, China has grabbed most of the attention because of the threat it poses to garment industries around the world.
The mainland is widely expected to take the lion's share of the global market, but it still faces trade restrictions in the form of 'safeguard quotas' other World Trade Organisation member countries maintain until 2008 under an 'anti-surge' mechanism.
This opens the door for India, which can expect to double its growth rate to 20 per cent this year, from 10 per cent annually since 2002, according to Global Sources, a Nasdaq-listed trade facilitator.
The WTO's anti-surge mechanism does not apply to India and buyers are looking to that country as an 'alternative to putting all their eggs in China', said Global Sources managing editor Meghla Bhardwaj.
India's garment exports would top US$6.5 billion this year, Global Sources predicted.
For men's and women's trousers made in the subcontinent, the industry consensus is for growth in international demand more than tripling this year from the US quota-restricted level last year.
Women's clothes, which account for 45 per cent of India's garment exports, will grow a robust 20 per cent, local manufacturers estimate.
'Garment manufacturers in India are optimistic about exports in 2005,' Global Sources senior analyst Michael Kleist said. 'Over 95 per cent of Indian garments go to the former quota-restricted US and European Union.'
'India has several competitive advantages in the post-quota era - the availability of relatively low-cost skilled labour and qualified designers, and the fact that it is one of the world's largest producers of cotton and man-made yarns and fabrics,' he said.
Ms Bhardwaj added: 'Most of the companies we visited had some expansion plan or other. Indian companies are very bullish about their investments.'
More than 90 per cent of the 84 Indian suppliers surveyed by Global Sources plan to expand capacity this year after the removal of the four-decades-old WTO textile quotas on January 1.
India is the world's sixth-largest apparel exporter, but the South Asian giant would grow to be the second-largest supplier to the US and European Union in the post-quota era, Global Sources said.
The WTO predicts India's share of the EU garment market will rise from 6 per cent last year to 9 per cent now that the quotas have ended, while its share of the US garment market will jump from 4 per cent to 15 per cent.
The EU accounts for 49 per cent of India's garment exports and the US another 42 per cent. Textiles (including garments) account for 5 per cent of India's gross export earnings and 6 per cent of the country's GDP, according to BNP Paribas Peregrine.
Even though China was a major competitor, India had its niche, 'so its garment industry won't be wiped out', Ms Bhardwaj said.
'India's garment industry is different from China's. India specialises in embroidered and sequined garments which are popular in Europe, while China is more into mass-produced items such as polo shirts,' she said.
However, the end of the quotas is expected to increase competition, leading to price deflation.
Global Sources found that, in the past two months, export prices of some Indian garments had fallen about 10 per cent. Almost 40 per cent of the 84 Indian suppliers surveyed plan to lower their export prices in the next 12 months.