Recently published statistics show that up to 40 per cent of German fabric exports now find their way to former eastern bloc nations. Six of the country's top ten cloth customers are based in either central or eastern Europe, with Poland contributing 14 per cent of such business.

But whereas in the l990s imports from Germany primarily provided raw materials for Poland's own clothing factories, today such goods are likely to be traded on, with manufacturing units in one of the republics formerly part of the Soviet Union their most likely destination.

The appeal of making up across the border is a combination of recent investment to create state of the art factories together with still much lower labour costs than those prevailing in Germany. Average hourly rates for textile trade workers in the Czech Republic for instance hover around 2.11 euros as against l9.43 euros in Germany.

Cloth exports returning in the form of ready-to-wear clothing, meanwhile, boost Germany's role as the EU's largest clothing importing nation. Indeed Germany, with the value of imports now standing at 19,733 euros a year, currently occupies place in the world league table of clothing importing nations. Only the USA and Japan import more ready-to-wear garments.

By Sonia Roberts.