The Philippine garment industry is hoping for accelerated beneficial trade access to the European Union (EU) and United States (US) in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the country on Sunday (10 November).

Most Philippine garment production is situated in and around the capital Manila, whereas the region worst hit by the typhoon is Caloocan, some 200km south.

However, numerous small-sized sewing factories in the Visayas, the country's central islands, have been destroyed.

"Our subcontractors there have all been wiped out", said Robert Young, president of the Foreign Buyers Association of the Philippines (FOBAP).

"Two days ago, we had a telephone conference with local officials in the region and were told that even the sewing machines were destroyed," he told just-style. Young elaborated that these hard-hit sewing factories typically run just 10 to 15 sewing machines.

Of course, everything is currently about life and death in the Visayas. Aid for the subcontractors is piled up in FOBAP's Manila headquarters but, according to Young, the disastrous road conditions are still hindering distribution.

He points out that hand-in-hand with first relief measures, rehabilitation programmes must be implemented quickly so as to create a livelihood for these clothing and textile sector subcontractors.

To that end, Young called for the Philippines government to provide low-to-zero interest loans to the factories for the procurement of five to ten sewing machines per unit.

"And, I appeal to the European Union and the United States to bring forward the implementation of the [EU's] GSP+ status and the [US] SAVE Act or to grant other preferential treatment to the Philippine garment industry," he said.

"This would help our country getting over the biggest tragedy we have ever had."

The Philippines government had in August announced its intention to apply for membership of the EU's revised GSP+ scheme, which comes into force on 1 January and would covers 6,274 products, which would all be subject to zero-duty.

The country's inclusion in the US's Save Our Industries Act (SAVE Act) would allow Philippine-made apparel using US fabrics to enter the United States duty free.

FOBAP president Young predicted that an early GSP+ membership is more likely than early inclusion in the SAVE Act.