A new survey of Pakistani textile and apparel manufacturers shows nearly a 70 per cent drop in business from buyers in the United States, exacerbating an already-serious problem for Pakistan's economy that threatens to force the closing of more factories and cost thousands of additional workers their jobs.

The survey covered 40 companies in Lahore, Karachi and Faisalabad, representing about 40 per cent of the country's apparel export industry. They reported a 68 per cent decline in orders for clothing that would be manufactured from December through February 2002 as compared with the same period a year ago.

In addition, the companies surveyed said that 16,091 workers, or 36 per cent of their combined workforce, would likely lose their jobs. Some companies have also said they would be forced to close factories because of the dramatic downturn in business.

The Pakistan Textile & Apparel Group, which released the report and an earlier survey of 14 companies last week, said the results provide compelling evidence that Pakistan needs the United States to suspend tariffs on textiles to encourage US companies to continue to buy goods from Pakistan.

"We desperately need support from the United States to guarantee the survival of an industry that employs 60 percent of our country's workforce," said Azfar Hasan, a spokesman for the Group and a Lahore business owner who represents US companies that import textiles from Pakistan. "The military success in Afghanistan should not obscure the need to protect the jobs of workers in Pakistan and avert an economic disaster."

The Pakistan Textile & Apparel Group has urged Congress to pass legislation that would give the president the authority to reduce or suspend existing duties on textile and apparel imports from Pakistan. Legislation introduced Tuesday by Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) would grant the president that authority until 31 December 2004.

The United States is Pakistan's single largest customer, importing $2.2 billion worth of goods from Pakistan last year, with clothing and textiles accounting for $1.9 billion - 86 per cent - of the total. Pakistan has only a 1.6 per cent share of the US market for apparel imports, ranking behind 19 other exporting countries, including Mexico, China, Honduras, Bangladesh, Thailand, India, El Salvador, and Sri Lanka. Pakistan's share of the US market for all textile imports - apparel and non-apparel - is 2.65 per cent, behind 14 other countries.

According to the new survey, the 40 companies reported that they had orders for $30.5 million in goods for December through February, a drop of nearly $64 million from a year ago. They also said they expect to produce 7.2 million 'pieces' during the three-month period, a 69 per cent drop from the 23 million pieces manufactured during the same period last year.

The Pakistan Textile & Apparel Group is a coalition of Pakistani textile and clothing manufacturers, and buyers for US companies that import goods from Pakistan.