The first ever International Textile & Garment Industry Exhibition, which took place in Burma (Myanmar) this week, mirrored the sense of optimism gripping the country's clothing sector.

The event, which was held from 14-17 December in Yangon, attracted more than 100 exhibitors - along with much interest from local textile and apparel manufacturers, as well as foreign investors with garment production facilities in Burma. 

The general consensus seems to be that thanks to recent political, social and labour reforms in the country, trade will benefit from the proposed restoration of GSP status by the European Union, and the end of US and Canadian trade sanctions. 

Several exhibitors were in search of a local agent, and plan to install a sales and/or service after-sales office in Yangon. 

There was also talk about expansion, modernisation and greenfield investment projects.

It is generally believed that the three main comparative advantages of Burma - low labour costs, abundance of workers and preferential trade status - will lead to rapid growth in garment exports. 

This is of enormous importance for the country since its garment sector is the only industry involved in global production and distribution networks.

At the same time, however, most machinery suppliers are aware that further development of Burma's textile and garment industry still depends on overcoming a host of challenges.

Among the most quoted obstacles and bottlenecks in the country are the unreliable supply of electricity, the low productivity of workers, the need to restrict wage growth, the need for improvement at the port of Yangon, poor telephone and internet connections, and poor road conditions.

The is also uncertainty about government vision and strategy. For example, will the government support a local textile supply chain or is its ambition limited to growing the existing cutting-making-packing garment export industry?

Jozef De Coster will be filing more detailed reports on Burma's textile and clothing sector in the New Year.