At a time when nearly one million people are expected to enter the workforce every month for the next three decades, export-oriented apparel production in India and other South Asian countries has the potential to create more and better jobs, a new World Bank report said Thursday.
The report predicted that as wages increase, China, the largest apparel manufacturer for the last 10 years, is expected to slowly relinquish its lead position in the global apparel market, opening the door to other competitors.
“This could be a huge opportunity for India and other South Asian countries,” the World Bank said. “Even a 10 percent increase in Chinese apparel prices could create at least 1.2 million new jobs in the Indian apparel industry.”
Women are expected to benefit the most, as their share of total apparel employment is much higher than their share in other industries. A 1 percent increase in expected wages in the textiles and apparel industry could raise the probability of women entering the labor force by 18.9 percent, said the report.
“Apparel manufacturing not only has a huge potential for creating jobs, particularly for the poor, but also has a unique ability to attract female workers. Employed women are more likely to create positive social impacts as they tend to spend their income on the health and education of children,” said Onno Ruhl, World Bank country director for India. “Rising costs of apparel manufacturing in China provide a window of opportunity for India to focus on apparel in productively employing its huge working-age population.”
The top four apparel producers in South Asia — Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — have made big investments in world apparel trade and account for 12 percent of global apparel exports. India also has a more diversified export structure and has a well-developed cotton fiber, textile and apparel manufacturing base.
The report is part of a larger analysis called “Stitches to Riches? Apparel Employment and Trade Development” focusing on South Asia’s export and job potential compared with those of their closest competitors in the Southeast Asia region, such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. A chapter released on Tuesday suggested that Sri Lanka should look to boost its apparel manufacturing for economic growth.
Though India is gaining market share, Southeast Asian countries are outperforming all South Asian countries in overall apparel export performance, product diversity and other non-cost-related factors. For it to take advantage, India needs to move quickly to ease barriers to the import of man-made fibers, facilitate market access and encourage foreign investment to reach more end markets, which would also yield dividends for other light manufacturers like footwear and toys, the new World Bank report suggests.
“South Asia has taken many steps in recent years to support the textile and apparel sector, but it now needs to step up its game by tackling inefficiencies that are undercutting its competitiveness. Greater access to man-made fiber and integration between textile and apparel, among other measures, can help Indian companies take advantage of the emerging global opportunities and encourage good jobs for development,” said Gladys C. Lopez-Acevedo, one of the authors of the report and a lead economist for the World Bank.
The report recommends removing trade restrictions to allow easy access to man-made fibers as inputs, increasing efficiency along the value chain, such as integration between textiles and apparel, and improving social and environmental compliance by introducing better human resource practices.
It suggests that India employ several policy measures to help increase apparel exports. These include increasing product diversity by reducing tariffs and import barriers to ease access to man-made fibers, and lowering excise taxes or providing other incentives to develop a domestic man-made fiber industry. In addition, the World Bank recommends India improve productivity by helping firms enter the formal sector and take advantage of economies of scale with less complex labor policies. It also should promote foreign direct investment for apparel by adopting clear and transparent policies on foreign ownership and within export processing zones. Indian industry could shorten lead times by using industrial parks to provide better infrastructure.