The apparel industry in the CAFTA-DR area has the potential to grow its share of the US market from 10% to 20% - but only if the countries involved start working together, according to speakers at the recent Apparel Conference of Americas.

As if to highlight how collaboration is easier said than done, though, it was also pointed out that putting the trade deal into action was being stalled because ongoing disagreements mean not all countries have yet approved it.

The advantages for US companies of sourcing from the region, however, are more clear-cut. "Geography is on your side…use it!" was the verdict of John Strasburger, managing director of VF Americas Sourcing.

VF produces 200m units per year at its 37 factories in Mexico and CAFTA countries, and sources a further 90m units via 807 cut make and trim and full package resources. 

Strasburger said the biggest opportunity for the region's vendors, mills and trim involves timeliness in initial product development, pointing out that: "When all is said and done, VF must have a reason to bring a program from Asia to Latin America."

"Think in terms of size, scope and scale whether you are a finisher, mill, cut/sew or even a nation," was the advice from John Bakane, president and CEO of Cone Denim LLC, an ITG company. As the world's largest denim manufacturer, Cone recently announced plans for a US$100m denim plant in Nicaragua.

Teresa Nersesyan, director of sourcing operations for fast growing retailer Pacific Sunwear, told the region: ""Your ace in the hole here over China are the incredible working conditions. You have stable companies and a happy motivated workforce."

Nersesyan also pointed out there are benefits and risks of doing business with a progressive retailer. Suppliers must be willing to change quickly as the fashion oriented market changes.

After all, as Carlos Arias, president of Guatemala's largest independently-owned apparel company Koramsa explained: "Having a room full of world class suppliers does not mean we have a world class supply chain in the room."

The high level event held in Managua, Nicaragua under the banner 'One Region…One Market…One Source,' attracted 220 people from 143 companies and 10 nations.

It was organised by AAFA (American Apparel & Footwear Association), AAPN (American Apparel Producers Network), CCAA (Caribbean Central American Action), SPESA (Sewn Products Equipment & Suppliers of the Americas), and [TC]² (Textile/Clothing Technology Corporation).