The value of Greek clothing exports plunged 17 percent in the first half of 2005, reaching 652 million euros, compared to 786 million in the first half of 2004. However, the Association of Greek Weaving and Ready-to-Wear Enterprises (SEPEE), which published these figures yesterday, sees a silver lining in the relative recovery over the second quarter: After the first quarter, the drop in exports was 22 percent, the greatest ever recorded. At the same time, imports rose 8 percent, reaching 636 million euros, compared to 589 million in the first half of 2004. This reduced the sector’s trading surplus from 197 million euros in the first half of 2004 to just 16 million in the first half of 2005, a 92 percent drop. The reason for this development is the lifting of quotas on imports of Chinese textiles from January 1, 2005. However, SEPEE estimates that the agreement between the European Union and China, which imposes import restrictions on 10 categories of clothing and textiles until the end of 2007, will help improve the situation in the second half of this year. Among Greece’s main clients, only exports to Italy rose in early 2005 (25 percent). The biggest recorded export drops were to Sweden (33 percent), the United Kingdom (31.1 percent) and France (30 percent). The biggest import rises were from Turkey (46 percent), Spain (31 percent) and China (24 percent). Despite the existence of even this slim trade surplus, the clothing sector, one of Greece’s strongest exporting sectors in the past, is in a deep crisis, along with textiles. Thousands of jobs have been lost over the past few years as enterprises either shut down operations or, most often, relocate to neighboring countries, such as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) or Bulgaria, where labor costs are considerably lower. The northern Greek city of Naoussa, where much of the textile industry has been centered, faces record unemployment.