By  on February 6, 2006

WASHINGTON — King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein of Jordan made a personal appeal to some of fashion's top executives Friday, hoping to draw additional business to his country's growing apparel manufacturing base.

"This particular sector has gotten my support from Day One and will continue to get my support," King Abdullah told a gathering of executives representing companies such as Liz Claiborne Inc. and Sara Lee Branded Apparel at the Four Seasons Hotel here.

Thanks in part to two trade agreements that offer preferential access to the U.S. market, Jordan's apparel exports to the U.S. topped $1 billion last year, up from about $12 million in 1999. In addition to a free-trade agreement that went into effect in 2001, Jordan has qualified industrial zones that let it take advantage of a trade pact between the U.S. and Israel, with much of that production then exported to the U.S.

The industry now employs 55,000 workers, 23,000 of them Jordanian, and might swell to a workforce of 100,000 in the next five years.

"We have a tremendously solid base," said King Abdullah. "We are ready at this stage to go one step further. I believe that we can go to medium- and high-end products."

Dressed in a Jordanian-made dark blue suit, the King greeted the meeting's 40 or so participants before sitting between Bob Zane, chairman of the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel, and Kevin Burke, president and chief executive officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association.

"I'm touched by the humanity of the man," said Zane, who is also senior vice president of Liz Claiborne. "How many other heads of state have taken this level of interest in this industry?"

Last year, Claiborne did about $70 million worth of business in Jordan. In order to remain competitive, the country's going to have to continue to develop, said Zane. This includes further improvements in infrastructure and cementing an FTA with Turkey, which could supply fabrics quickly to Jordan's factories.

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