ECONOMY

Turkish textile industry is looking eastward to boost sector in the face of stiff competition from China

ISTANBUL – Turkey’s textile industry is looking to develop beyond its Istanbul heartland to shore up its global market share in the face of growing competition from China, a leading sector official told Reuters. Textiles are central to Turkey’s exports, surging to some $16 billion in 2007 from less than $9 billion five years earlier. But last year’s 15 percent growth largely reflected dollar weakness and real growth is less than 2 percent due to waning competitiveness, the Turkish Clothing Manufacturers’ Association chairman, Ahmet Nakkas, said in an interview late on Thursday. «I think it will be stagnant again this year. If we take a combative approach we can raise our global market share to 6-6.5 percent from 5 percent currently. If we continue to stagnate we could end up with 3 percent,» he said. With some 70 percent of the industry centered on Istanbul and the surrounding region, Nakkas said it was key for the sector’s future to build infrastructure in poorer central and eastern Turkey where unemployment is high and manufacturing costs lower. If basic production was transferred to eastern Turkey, sector activity in Istanbul and Izmir could then focus on research and development and high-tech production, he said. «You will create cost benefits if you implement a transformation from west to east, taking new measures to boost competitiveness and creating regions specializing (in textiles),» he said. As a model for future development he cited the example of a project in Adiyaman in southeast Turkey, which has created 6,000 jobs within four years. Nakkas said Turkey must harness the potential of its eastern regions to compete with the lower-cost industry in Asia. Average textile labor costs of $2.88 an hour in Turkey compare with 60 cents in China, while energy costs in Turkey were around twice those in China, according to the association. Textile producers across Europe are fearful of a surge of imports from China this year as quotas expire for the EU. Quotas in the United States and other countries run until end-2008. Nakkas said the government had ignored the industry’s calls for action to confront the growing challenge and the sector had only clung to its 5 percent market share by focusing on lean production and developing in line with customer demands. «The primary vision of this sector is to move from being a supplier country to a market maker. That means being able to create more value-added products and being able to provide a service more rapidly,» he said. The textile and clothing sector in Turkey is largely made up of small and medium-sized firms, with notable listed players including Bossa and Altinyildiz. Officially some 900,000 people are involved in the sector, but including those in the unregistered economy this figure rises to around 2-2.5 million, Nakkas said, in a country with a total population of more than 70 million people.