Mauritius eyes southern Africa for textile exports

A mountainous island on the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar, Mauritius is one of the countries negatively affected by the 2005 removal of a quota system that had protected European, American and Canadian textile industries from cheap Asian imports while guaranteeing easy access to African textile and apparel producers.

The new trade rules, negotiated at the World Trade Organisation and which took effect from January 2005, opened up to market forces the textiles sector, hitherto protected for more than 30 years.

Since 2005 developing countries have had to contend with stiff competition from more efficient producers in countries such as China and India.

As a result, thousands of jobs have been lost and factories closed in countries such as Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. To counter the effects of the new trade rules, Mauritius has instituted a number of measures aimed at keeping its textiles sector afloat.

The country has been restructuring its clothing and textile industry, focusing more on niche products and items made from synthetic fibres that still enjoy favourable terms of trade under the United States’ Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA).

AGOA offers easy access of African products into the US.

Mauritius is also giving more attention to its neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional body with a potential market of 240 million people. Mauritius is one of the 14 SADC member states.

Exports to SADC have grown steadily since 2000 when the region accounted for 1.5 percent of total Mauritian exports. In 2004 ‘ the latest year for which figures are available ‘ SADC exports had risen to 2.9 percent of Mauritian exports.

South Africa is the largest market for Mauritian products, accounting for about 84 percent in 2004, while Tanzania and Mozambique accounted for seven and five percent, respectively.

The country launched a new trade show in June this year ‘ Mauritius for Africa ‘ to promote its industry in the SADC and Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA).

An estimated 300 firms and individual buyers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia attended the trade show.

There were exhibitions from producers in the textile and clothing, food and beverages, information technology, plastic and allied products, chemicals, cosmetics, printing, publishing and paper products sectors.

The Indian Ocean nation of about 1.2 million people has emerged as one of Africa’s economic success stories.

From the 1960s when its economy was reliant on the production of sugar cane, the country has experienced an economic revolution largely driven by the growth of its textiles and clothing sector.

July 2006
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