CONTEXPO: SOFT SALES A HARD ISSUE

Byline: Georgia Lee

MIAMI — While the Caribbean’s lack of free trade parity with Mexico was a continuing worry, the most immediate concern for attendees at the Bobbin Contexpo show here last week was the softness in the U.S. apparel industry.
Judging from the mood of exhibitors and buyers at the show, traditionally geared to promoting 807 manufacturing in Caribbean, the great boom in Caribbean Basin manufacturing that began in Eighties is beginning to slow down.
Companies are starting to feel the squeeze, not only from competition from Mexico with its advantages under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but from the general slowdown at retail in recent seasons.
“It’s not the great sucking sound to Mexico that’s hurting business, it’s just that business in general is lousy,” said Allen Witten, president, Witten Sales, a Columbia, S.C. supplier of trims, threads and other accessories.
“This year is the worst. We’re seeing business contract in Latin America, and the root of the problem is lack of demand for apparel in the U.S.”
Mano Howard, president, Bend ‘N Stretch, a Miami-based manufacturer and contractor with factories in the Dominican Republic, agreed that business had become increasingly tougher during the past year.
While import figures from the Caribbean Basin Initiative countries were up solidly last year, the advance business has been slowing and has become harder to get, he noted.
“Business is bad, and the decline this year has really started to hurt,” he said. “Around 80 factories in the Dominican Republic have recently gone out of business. “We’re starting to see a shift from the Caribbean to Mexico that will only get worse without CBI parity,” he added
Despite the gloom and doom atmosphere, attendance at the show, which ended Friday at the Miami Beach Convention Center, was up, according to officials.
Total attendance was 6,152, up 455 over last year’s 5,697, with exhibitors increasing to 351, from 329 last year.
The show is comprised of machinery, fabric and trim; sourcing; and shipping and transportation. Sourcing, which makes up 27 percent of all exhibits, is the fastest growing area, said officials.
Perhaps the brightest spot at the show was the new Mexican Pavillion, a 2,800-square-foot area representing 28 Mexican fabric and textile suppliers and manufacturers.
“We’re going after U.S. business in a big way,” said Jorge Barreto, trade commissioner, Trade Commission of Mexico, one of the government sponsors of the Mexican exhibition.
The Trade Commission recently set up a Miami office to attract U.S. manufacturers, which is projected to develop $10 million worth of sourcing business for Mexico by the end of 1996.
Attendees at the show also shopped for shop floor machinery, as well as software packages to speed up the entire process from purchasing yarn to delivery to the retailer.
The feeling that seemed to come out was that factories that are well-engineered and well managed can continue to be competitive without parity.

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