NEW YORK — Vestex, the trade association for the Guatemalan apparel industry, plans to open a trade promotion office in Manhattan by the end of June.

The office will serve as a home base on Seventh Avenue for the group’s 245 members, said Carlos Arias, president of the apparel association and executive vice president of Koramsa, a Guatemalan apparel maker.

“We need to be able to go out and promote our industry. We can’t sit back in our factories and expect customers to come to us,” he said. “We need to be able to reach out to American buyers. Not everyone can travel so much anymore.”

He added that the group is encouraging its members to market themselves more aggressively and focus on the quick-response arena, in which Guatemala’s close proximity to the U.S. market gives them an advantage. The group is stepping up its efforts now to try to build market share ahead of 2005, when quotas will be dropped among all World Trade Organization members, which will make the advantages of the Caribbean Basin Trade Promotion Act of 2000 less pronounced.

Arias acknowledged that business slowed down substantially for Guatemalan apparel makers in the last half of 2001, as the U.S. economy quickly cooled.

The office, in addition to providing meeting space for Guatemalan executives, will offer services that include courier service between New York and Guatemala. It will be staffed by an executive director, who is yet to be named.

Guatemala has 227 apparel factories, 60 accessories makers, 18 textile mills and employs about 131,000 workers in total. About 65 percent of the apparel companies are foreign owned, primarily by Korean investors, and Arias said Korean participation in Vestex is increasing.

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