Primary Industries Minister Daya Gamage examining latest apparel industry machinery on display at the exhibition
By Waruna Wanniarachchi
By Zahara Zuhair
Considering the recent visit by the European Union (EU) delegation and the prospect of regaining GSP plus, the Apparel Industry Suppliers Exhibition (AISEX) is back after a lapse of seven years, kick starting at the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Memorial Exhibition Centre (SBMEC) yesterday. The exhibition focuses on a wide range of textile machinery, accessories and services, and showcases technological innovations in the apparel industry.
Minister of Primary Industries Daya Gamage, who graced the opening ceremony of the exhibition said, the government has an ambitious export target of doubling apparel exports by the year 2020 to US $ 8 billion.
He said that in 2008, the last time AISEX was held, the garments industry was the biggest export earner and brought in US $ 3.3 billion to the country.
He noted that despite it still being the largest export earner, it has not proceeded much beyond the earnings level of 2007.
“By the end of 2014, we were only exporting US $ 4.9 billion. Considering the devaluation of the rupee in that intervening period of seven years, we were exporting less than what we did in 2007,” he said.
The minister said that they are yet to explore South American markets, several middle income markets in Europe such as Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic and noted that recently when a Spanish apparel delegation was in town, they had discussions with one of the world’s largest clothing brands, ZARA.
He further said the government is ready to extend support to the apparel industry to increase its production, provide better training to employees and adopt better human resource practices.
Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAFF) Secretary General Tuli Cooray said that a recent World Bank study concluded that Sri Lanka outperformed all other apparel manufacturers in the region, namely Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, except for cost competitiveness. Hence, he said the local apparel players need to think of different modalities rather than targeting to develop the industry on lower labour costs.
He further said that they are expecting to introduce electronic documentation for import and export, and said 95 percent of the export documentation globally is done online.
Cooray said that they were expecting the industry to grow with a minimum of Rs.500 million annually in turnover, once the country gets the GSP plus status by 2017.
Sri Lanka Apparel Institute Chairman Lakdas D. Fernando said that with rising wages in Sri Lanka, a part of the manufacturing cost inevitably will have to be transferred from labour to machinery, which is likely to herald a major shift to technology.
He said that buyer markets are concerned not only on price and quality but also increasingly on ecological considerations. He added that the industry has to now develop a framework to overcome the new challenges to be a competitive player in the global apparel market.