Jun 28, 2010

Textile and Clothing Industry

When talking about the decline of the textile and clothing industry in Zambia and other parts of the developing world the common culprit blamed is salaula (second-hand clothes). Zambia is indeed one of the few countries in the world that does not limit the amount of salaula imported.  No prizes for guessing the other culprit - cheap imports from China. This argument has gained much political mileage and is quite worn out, but that didn’t stop Sakwiba Sikota (United Liberal Party president) from regurgitating the age old adage and calling for the government to place restrictions on these imports to revitalise the local textile industry.

The reason I say the argument is worn out is because the solution as proposed by Sikota and others only answers part of the problem. The crowding out of local industry was indeed facilitated by the government’s inability to provide import protection but also because insufficient attention was paid to export promotion during the era of market liberalisation.

So, if the government were to limit imports what work would accompany it to stimulate local production? Idle capacity exists in Kafue Textiles and the Zambia-China Mulungushi Textiles (ZCMT) and would need to be brought online to increase fabric production. I haven’t heard of anyone looking to start production at these shuttered plants, though the Chinese government still owns a 66 percent stake in ZCMT and would probably have a large say in what happens to the facility.

Zambia produces high quality cotton, and could become more competitive if yarn and fabric are made within the country. This local production would effectively decrease raw-material and transportation costs. It sad to note that Zambia currently under-utilises opportunities within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and is missing out on being a major supplier of yarn and fabric regionally and internationally.

Investment in the area of textiles and clothing needs to be spurred, and it will not be enough to wait for the government to do so. The opportunities exist and simply eliminating import of second hand clothes will not get us where we need to get – meeting the demand for clothes. 

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