The economic turmoil of past few years has taken a toll on many countries and with that the international trade has also been deeply affected. The countries that remained immune to these changes managed it with the sharp policies. The textile and apparel sector also had its share of ups and downs in these years. The Asian countries including China, India, Bangladesh, etc. remained competitive in textile and apparel manufacturing and outsourcing despite the economic meltdown. Nevertheless, textile sector of some other countries like Mauritius struggled to keep up with the chaos. Today, the Mauritian textile sector stands tall, but the challenges that lay ahead of it are grave.
In last decade or so, textile and apparel sectors of Mauritius have become one of the most important sectors that contribute to 5 percent of country's gross domestic product. The trade agreements and the benefits garnered thereof have helped the country's textile to grow, but there are still grave challenges ahead for the country's textile and apparel.
The country's textile and apparel sector has come a long way from being a manufacturer of basic items to a systematically established sector which is full of designer garments. T-shirts, lingerie, loungewear, shirts, sportswear, trousers, denims, suits, and cardigans are the main apparel products manufactured in Mauritius. The country boasts of having 250 textile industries that provide jobs to more than 40,000 people. In the last financial year, Mauritius exported t-shirts worth MUR 2.23 billion and shirts worth MUR 6.43 billion; the total value of trousers exported stood at MUR 4.76 billion and cardigans stood at MUR 2.33 billion.
Mauritius's textile industry focuses on supplying high quality products and also has potential to supply varying textile products at competitive prices. The sector also relies on upgraded modern technology. The liberal economic policy pertaining the international trade and investment has earned it loyal customers from around the world. The country also enjoys preferential market access, duty free and quota free status in European Union under the EU-ESA Economic Partnership Agreement, in United States of America under Africa Growth and Opportunities Act, in Africa under the Southern Africa Development Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and Turkey under the Bilateral Free Trade Agreement.
The labour in Mauritius is also cheap and the average labour cost is between US dollar 120 to US dollar 400 annually. Mauritius mainly exports its textile products to Europe and United States. But, apparently, the apparel and textile exports to South Africa have increased in last couple of years. Around 48 percent of textile and apparel products are exported to Europe and 18 percent are exported to United States. The exports to South Africa stand at 24 percent. Apparel of MUR 20.1 billion were exported in the last financial year. The total export turnover is around MUR 27 billion or US dollar 895.5 million annually.
The threat that is looming over the textile industry comes from the fact that the entire textile industry is based on preferential trade agreement, which makes it less competitive at the global level. There has been a lack of strategy that is affecting the further growth of the sector. Also, the last five years have been extremely difficult for the Mauritian textile, as almost all the foreign owned textile enterprises have
shutdown the operations in the country. Even the international buyers have several options to import textile and apparel from including China, India, Brazil, et al.
Another worrying factor for Mauritius is that the quotas and trade pacts are temporary, thus if the Mauritian government wants long term growth for the textile sector, it needs to frame policies that go in favour of the sector and aids it in facing future challenges. Though the labour in Mauritius is skilled and cheap in comparison to other countries, presently, the country heavily depends on importing the labour from Asian countries including China, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The imported labour is almost 40 percent more productive, but the companies have to pay for dormitories and flights of the imported labour, which adds to the cost burden.
In addition to this, further challenge faced by the Mauritius's textile and apparel manufacturers is the new demands being put up by the customers from the United States and Europe. The manufacturers now need to concentrate on providing complete services to retailers, which begins from sourcing the fabric to packaging and shipping. The sector also needs to explore the wide textile and garment industry and dabble with fresh segments that include lingerie, swimwear and beachwear. The focus must be on sourcing of material, e-retailing and logistics. The industry must work on market trends to predict what the buyers want.
The textile and apparel manufacturers of Mauritius have taken some steps in right direction like concentrating on the medium range market and offering price elasticity to the global customers. The competition from European and Turkish manufacturers would be immense in future; consequently, the strategy for the Mauritian textile sector is to offer higher margin and more expensive items.
The government, together with the manufacturers is trying to ensure that the textile sector heads in progressive direction. Despite the fact that a lot of measures remain to be taken, the country is making sincere attempts to deal with rising competition in European Union and United States markets. The silver lining in the cloud is that the Mauritian manufacturers are putting the spotlight on the complete package supply capacity, along with the quality in the higher end products.