Textiles, clothing important to 10 EU newcomers

Clothing and textiles are especially important sectors in the economies of most of the 10 states that yesterday signed accession agreements with the European Union. Their importance in production, employment and exports is far greater than in any current EU member. Greece’s trade with the above countries in clothing and textiles is limited, in contrast to significant commerce with Bulgaria and Romania, two other prospective EU members that are not expected to join until 2007, at the earliest. The European Union’s expansion to the east will take place in May 2004; a few months later, on January 1, 2005, the complete liberalization of clothing and textile products will take place. Until now, about 80 percent of the trade has already been deregulated. However, the relevant Greek merchants’ and producers’ associations are up in arms against what they see as «unfair competition.» The greatest danger for Greek enterprises will not come from Eastern Europe, however, but from other countries: According to the Association of Greek Weaving and Ready-to-Wear Clothing Enterprises, China poses the gravest threat to production across Europe. This position is supported by the figures: During the first 10 months of 2002, the volume of Chinese exports to Europe rose 160 percent, helped by further deregulation in the field. Their value rose 9.1 percent. In the 10 new EU members, 617,000 people were working in clothing and textiles at the end of 2001. The percentage of employment in these sectors as part of total employment varies from 7.5 percent to 27 percent. While in the current EU countries, these sectors account for 3.8 percent of industrial production, they are more important in the 10 newcomers (up to 16 percent in Lithuania). Clothing and textiles also accounted for 4.3 percent of the 15 EU members’ exports in 2001, while for the 10 members-in-waiting, the figures vary from 4.3 percent to 24.5 percent. In Greece, clothing and textiles account for 6 percent of exports and 1 percent of imports. The total value of Greek exports to the 10 countries in 2001 was 105.5 million euros, a trade surplus of 80.5 million euros. Only Slovakia exports more clothing and textiles to Greece than it imports. As expected, Greece’s biggest trading partner among the 10 is Cyprus.