NOT NOW: A spokesman for Seibu Department Stores termed as "speculation by the press" reports that the 21-store chain is planning to close four stores beginning in August and reduce its full-time employees by 250 to 3,150. The spokesman noted, however, that the company earlier decided on a new management plan to reduce its full-time employees by 1,000, to 2,400 from 3,400, by 2007, while increasing the number of part-timers by 700, to 3,600 from 2,900 at present.

According to reports in Tokyo, Seibu plans to close stores in Kawasaki, west of Tokyo, Hakodate on the northern island of Hokkaido, Sendai in the northeast of Tokyo, and Toyohashi near Nagoya. Seibu is in the process of restructuring after its creditor banks agreed to forsake approximately $1.9 billion in loans.

STILL BUILDING: Despite SARS, Marubeni Corp., a leading trading company, has established a subsidiary in Shanghai to market textile materials and textile products in China, while another major trading firm, Itochu Corp., has launched a joint-venture company in Shanghai to produce fashion apparel including handmade and handprinted products.

Marubeni said its Shanghai-based firm, Marubeni Textile (Shanghai) Co., will handle exportation to and importation from Japan and third markets of textile materials and textiles, as well as selling to the domestic Chinese market with annual sales forecast to reach $300 million in three years. The subsidiary is positioned as one of the most important global textile trading centers for Marubeni, the company said.

Itochu said its joint venture, Shanghai Sanzenin Trading Co., capitalized initially at $500,000, is owned 40 percent by the Shanghai-based subsidiary of Itochu Textile (Shanghai) Co. (ITS); 30 percent by Li Wenwen, a former Chinese employee of ITS, and 30 percent by local Chinese interests. The new company will not only export fashion apparel manufactured in China to Japan but also will sell to the Chinese market, export to third markets and make investments in Chinese business projects, Itochu said. — T.F.

GOING IN: Apparel imports to Japan in fiscal 2002 — April 2002 to March 2003 — declined 5.3 percent from the previous year for the first time in four years, reflecting the sluggish market here, according to figures released by the Ministry of Finance. Imports of apparel and related accessories in fiscal 2002 totaled $17.8 billion, at the average exchange rate of 122.40 yen to the dollar prevailing in fiscal 2002. China, the largest supplier, accounted for $14 billion, down 3.7 percent. This brought up China’s market share by 1.3 percentage points to 78.6 percent. Imports from the U.S. fell 24.9 percent to $248 million, while shipments from the European Union edged up 0.9 percent to $1.51 billion. — T.F.

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