South Asia's textile export sector has been an unexpected beneficiary of the SARS epidemic as Western buyers avoid trips to garment makers in China and Hong Kong.

A recent report from British research house Cotlook Ltd says orders to Indian textile manufacturers have risen, and that the outbreak of SARS has substantially depressed textile exports from China where some manufacturers have been forced to cut output.

"There was a potential of business worth about $6 billion coming to the sub-continent in the past two months," confirms Vijay Mathur, a director at India's Apparel Export Promotion Council.

Likewise, Quazi Moniruzzaman, president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, says exports had jumped more than 20 percent in the past few weeks.

But the gain is likely to be a short-term one, as Chinese garments are still cheaper.