Textile industry witnesses dramatic turnaround
The textile industry in Belgium has a lineage going back more than 700 years. Ghent, a city in the western region of Belgium was a medieval wool-producing center and famous for producing luxury cloth way back in the thirteenth century and till date is the main manufacturing base of the textile industry in Belgium.
But over the centuries and more particularly in the last few decades, the industry started losing its competitiveness to nimble footed Asian countries. A high production cost was one of the key reasons.
In 1998 Levi's closed down three manufacturing units in the country. The main reason that was analyzed was that production costs in Belgium were higher between 49% and 75% compared to its European average and when compared with production costs in Tunisia it was estimated to be high by as much as five times.
But the Belgian textile industry has still managed to survive. Antwerp has become Europe's largest petrochemical commodities centre and the second largest petrochemical cluster in the world, after Houston in Texas.
The textile industry managed to increase production for the second consecutive year in 2007 and reached those high levels reached in the year 2000. However the clothing industry saw production levels fall by as much as 2 percent compared to 2006.
The industry as a whole provided employment to an estimated 29,835 people in 2007 and about 70 percent of textile production is exported.
The Belgian textile and garment industry had an estimated export and import turnover of around €10.4 billion and €7.5 billion (both exclusive of fibres) respectively in 2007.
Statistics for the first three months of the current year reveal that exports have gone down by 6.6 percent and likewise imports too have fallen by 7.2 percent in comparison to the same period in 2007.
Exports for the period Jan-March'08 stood at €2.7 billion and imports totaled €1.81 billion against €2.89 billion and €1.96 billion respectively, when compared with figures of the first three months of 2007. But it still managed to have a positive trade balance of €890 million.
Amongst blocs, exports to the European Union accounted for the lion's share of an astounding 90.8 percent by value and amounted to €2.45 billion compared to €2.55 in the corresponding three month period of 2007.
The major importing countries in the European Union were France with a share of 24.8 percent followed by Germany with 15.4 percent, UK 12.5 percent and the Netherlands with 10 percent.
The African continent and West European countries followed with a share of 1.9 percent each, Asia with 1.5 percent, North America 1.3 and East European countries 1.1.
From amongst major importing blocs, the European Union again topped with shipments commanding a share of 64.7 percent and amounting to €1.17 billion in 2008 in comparison to €1.19 billion in 2007 in the period under review.
From within the European bloc France shipped goods with a share of 15.1 percent, Germany with 15.0 percent, the Netherlands 13.2 percent, Italy 6.1 percent and UK with a share of 3.1 percent.