By  on February 22, 2005

GENEVA — The best way for small exporting nations to maintain or grow market share in the face of huge competitors, such as China and India, is to specialize, especially in light of the end of the global quota regime for apparel and textiles.

Huma Fakhar, a Lahore, Pakistan-based consultant who was part of a panel of experts at a recent forum sponsored by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, said China and India will be the two big winners among World Trade Organization members, but he dismissed the notion that they would wipe out their competition.

Rather, he argued, the lifting of restraints will allow smaller nations new opportunities.

“This is likely to be the biggest opportunity for developing countries to look beyond the wall of quotas and diversify into new markets and products,” Fakhar said.

He said the dynamic products would vary from country to country and from market to market.

China, he noted, will initially have an edge on synthetic fiber and cotton garments, while India’s advantage will be in cotton garments, particularly shirts and pants that require intricate stitching. Pakistan, he said, also has an edge in cotton.

He suggested that Sri Lanka’s strength will remain in intimate apparel manufacturing, an area where skilled needlework is key. Bangladesh, he said, will remain strong in cotton and synthetics, but is gaining ground in wool. Mexico’s forte will be cotton sweaters, as well as men’s wool suits and shirts, he added.

As for the U.S. textile industry, Patrick Conway, of the economics department at the University of North Carolina, said commodity textiles will be a winner-take-all competition based on price and reliability, where U.S. producers are likely to “cede production to foreign suppliers.”

He said the best bet for U.S. mills will be to focus on high-tech fabrics such as nonwoven textiles and to seek out international partnerships for more basic goods.

Munir Ahmad, executive director at the International Textiles and Clothing Bureau, an umbrella organization for developing countries, noted that even with quotas lifted, the competitive playing field remains tilted by trade deals that apply duties selectively.

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