Revival of local textile industry pushed amid lack of PPE, masks

The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the need to revive the Philippines’ local textile industry so that the apparel and garment industry can respond to demand particularly for personal protective equipment (PPE) and face masks.

Robert Young, PHILEXPORT Trustee for the Textiles Sector, lamented in a recent e-forum that the Philippines is the only country in Asia without its own textile industry. When Wuhan closed its borders in January, Philippine garment production halted almost immediately because manufacturers sourced their textiles from China.

“If we have factories nearby, or domestic, we can get supplies from these textile companies,” said Young, also the President of the Foreign Buyers Association of the Philippines (FOBAP), .

He said that 10 or 15 years ago, “the Philippines was no.2 in the whole of Asia in textile manufacturing” but the textile companies have since closed down and the country has been relying on imported materials.

“We cannot continue importing. We have to be self-reliant because we don’t know what will happen next,” added Young, who is likewise a member of the Export Development Council Executive Committee.

He said they have been receiving calls for help from factories that have run out of materials to produce PPE and masks.

“We are willing but where are the fabrics? Where are the materials?… Wala tayong makuha,” he said.

He suggested sitting down and doing a serious study on the revival of the textile industry. This is a very important industry that provides the basic human need for clothing, but the Philippines does not have its own, he stressed.

To help the sector recover, Young said pending free trade agreements (FTAs) should be implemented, especially that with the United States, so that wearables from the Philippines can enter the US tax-free.

With FTAs in force and the revival of the textile sector, more jobs will be created and poverty can be alleviated, he added.

On the textile and garment industry roadmap, meanwhile, Young said they suggest its amendment or upgrade to include the impact of the pandemic, with the matter of hygiene and sanitation elevated to the top of the agenda.

On buying trends post-COVID-19 pandemic, he said garment orders are expected to be down by 50% as garment retailers will first focus on depleting their inventory before making new orders. He also forecasts that garment designs will initially be basic, simple, practical and cost-driven because customers would not be in the mood to shop after the lockdown.

Looking ahead, Young said they believe that recovery of the garment industry will take about one and a half years, but also admitted that this is more “wishful thinking.”

Unlike previous crises, this pandemic is “something else” because it is global and has forced the closure of many factories, “so the one year and a half is actually wishful thinking,” he said.

Others would say it would take two to three years, “but we want to really… think positive and I think we can make it,” concluded Young in this eForum organized by the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT), Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) .

The government a couple of years ago launched a program to revive and promote the Philippine textile and garment industry, which used to be a US$3 billion industry at its peak and one of the country’s top performing sectors both locally and internationally.

In December 2019 the Department of Trade and Industry’s Board of Investments launched the Textile-Garment Industry Roadmap 2020-2029 that envisions a “Competitive, Integrated & Sustainable Philippine textile-garment industry that generates Inclusive Growth.”

But issues remain. In March this year, women entrepreneurs in a forum raised concerns surrounding lack of materials, especially cotton, as one of the major challenges confronting the revival and sustainability of the local fashion, textile and weaving industry.

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