CIRFS, the International Rayon and Synthetic Fibres Committee is the Brussels-based representative body for the European man-made fibres industry, with member companies in Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Its members account for over 90 percent of European production of the fibres within the scope of CIRFS.
Mr Colin Purvis is the Director General of CIRFS, since January 1994.
Mr Purvis was born on July 3rd, 1950 in Montrose (Scotland). In 1972, he completed his graduation from Edinburgh University. From 1974 to 1993, he was engaged in representational work on behalf of the UK textile industry and from 1989 to 1993, he was Director of the British Textile Confederation and Secretary General of the Apparel, Knitting and Textiles Alliance.
He was appointed to the additional responsibility of Director General of EATP (European Association for Textile Polyolefins) in January 1999.
He co-founded a working group in 2002 bringing together man-made fibre associations in Brazil, China, Europe, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand and the USA, and acts as its chairman.
Mr Purvis is also active in the affairs of EURATEX, the European Apparel and Textile Organisation. He speaks English (his native tongue), French, German and Italian.
In an interview with Face2Face team, Mr Purvis speaks about the role that CIRFS plays in the European Fibre Industry; the challenges that remain; and the effect of Euro on industry economy.
Could you brief us on CIRFS and its activities?
"CIRFS is the association representing man-made fibre producers in Europe. The industry that we represent is the largest man-made fibres producing region in the world, outside Asia: Euro 12 billion of sales last year, and output of 4.6 million tons. CIRFS has three main activities: collecting, analyzing and providing market data for use by its members; coordinating initiatives on technical and environmental questions; and promoting the members’ interests on economic and trade issues. We also have other activities, including sponsoring the world’s biggest man-made fibres conference, held every year at Dornbirn in Austria."
Generally, what benefits do members derive from CIRFS?
The benefits they get from CIRFS are many. They have access to market information, allowing them to follow development of the fibres market – in Europe and now worldwide – on a monthly basis. They can use our international trade database, allowing them to study the trade pattern of almost 70 countries throughout the world. They use the technical standards and test methods that we have developed: the so-called BISFA standards. And they benefit from our influence with the European authorities, which means that European rules on environmental protection and defense of fair trading conditions take our industry’s needs into account. There is no doubt that being a member of CIRFS gives a competitive advantage in today’s global market.
What are the biggest challenges faced in Europe in synthetic fibre industry?
"There are plenty of challenges for European producers, but also a lot of opportunities. European fibre producers have had to adjust to the changing size and shape of textile and apparel production in Europe, particularly in the Western part of our continent. European wage costs mean that producers in labour-intensive sectors, such as apparel, have difficulty in competing with imports, so many have downsized, others have changed their type of production and many have moved price-sensitive assembly operations offshore to lower-cost regions round Europe. The end of the quota system, and the surge of imports from China which followed, have made this even more serious. In the fibres themselves, we have to face a situation for many of them of global overcapacity, particularly in Asia, which is driving down prices and margins. A lot of producers outside Europe, especially in some Asian countries, have reacted by trying to export their way out of trouble, instead of carrying out the restructuring and capacity reductions which are really necessary. This means that they have been dumping their output in Europe, and CIRFS has been forced into action to defend Europe against breaches of WTO rules. Of course, there is also a lot of cooperation between European and Asian producers, including joint investment, but CIRFS is determined to encourage the fair trade conditions to which we are entitled under WTO principles. Any company selling at dumped prices in Europe has to understand that it is behaving in a damaging and reckless way, and is likely to be penalised."
How is CIRFS responding to these challenges?
"I have just referred to one CIRFS response: defending our members against distorted conditions of competition such as dumping and subsidies. But almost all CIRFS activities are geared to helping our members meet the competitive challenges. Our market information has this purpose. Influencing European legislation on technical and environmental issues has the same objective – we support high standards in Europe, but they have to take into account the requirement to keep a strong industry base. We also spend a lot of time and efforts promoting the need for constant attention to quality and innovation, and the development of new fibre applications. Europe is one of the world leaders in fibre innovation, and CIRFS has a very important supporting role. We have a very active Research Committee, and the Dornbirn Conference in Austria is a very good way also of promoting knowledge about technical advances. Incidentally, attendance at the Conference is not limited to European companies – any fibre or textile company can participate, with full information available on www.dornbirn-mfc.com"
To what extent is the strong Euro responsible for the industry economy?
The strong Euro is a real problem, especially because a lot of countries have currencies which do not reflect their real economic strength. China is one example. It makes imports cheaper, and exporting more difficult. But don’t forget that, despite this, Europe is the world’s biggest textile exporter, and that European producers export huge quantities of high quality and speciality man-made fibres. So this shows that Europe has real competitive strengths, despite the challenges I have mentioned.
What are the bright spots in synthetic fibre industry in Europe?
It is difficult to know where to start, so let me confine myself to giving just a few examples. Europe is a world leader in many types of technical and high performance fibres and yarns, including viscose, polyester, polyamide and aramid, with outstanding quality and innovation. We are among the biggest global producers of acrylic and cellulosics, with a high reputation for quality and product development – European involvement in investment projects in China is welcomed for this reason. We have good strengths in fibres for automotive and other transport uses, and in carpets. Europe is leader in flame-retardant fibres, and a pioneer of other modified fibre types, such as bioactive. We have strengths too in fibres and yarns for high-performance sportswear, with exceptional breathability and comfort. We are the global frontrunner in use of polyolefins in fibres and textiles, including for the rapidly developing synthetic turf sector.
What aspect of your organizational research or contributions toward progress in textile studies has earned laurels for your association?
"What interests me is not laurels for CIRFS but the success for the industry that we represent. But I think it is fair to say that CIRFS is a well-regarded organization, both in Europe and worldwide. In Europe, our members account for more than 90 percent of European man-made fibres production. Globally, we have taken the lead, together with sister organizations from China, Japan and USA, in setting up an international network of man-made fibre associations, which now covers countries covering the huge majority of world production. You should really ask this question to our member companies, or to fibre associations from other countries in the world!"