Mauritius clothing and textile exports dropped 23.6% year-on-year between January and September

Mauritius clothing and textile exports dropped 23.6% year-on-year between January and September

A newly released Mauritius government plan designed to help the country's manufacturing industry recover from the Covid-19 pandemic has proposed that the clothing and textile sector invests in the latest technology and uses it to leverage local design talent. This expenditure will be supported by a new government-backed modernisation fund.

The 'Industrial Policy and Strategic Plan (IPSP) for 2020-25' was developed by the Industrial Development, SMEs and Cooperatives ministry, working with the United Nations Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD). 

It emphasises how the textile and clothing industry is a key engine of economic growth in the Mauritian economy, with export-oriented enterprises (EOE) contributing about 53% of overseas sales and 36% of total exports. Exports focus especially on shirts, trousers, pullovers and cardigans. 

The plan calls on the textile and clothing sector to sustain competitiveness "through the adoption of state-of-the-art equipment, technology [and] creativity in design." 

It adds that this outsourcing centre needs to focus on manufacturing reliability and logistics to ensure it can meet potentially reduced lead times as international clothing brands consider more near-sourcing.

The strategic plan highlights the strengths of the Mauritius clothing and textile sector, from the production of high-end products for niche markets to the vertical integration by main groups. 

But it calls on the industry to solve some key challenges, such as the shortage of local skilled labour, high dependence on expatriates for key posts, excessive local labour costs and low productivity.

Some of these measures would be financed by a Modernisation Investment Support Fund, which "would facilitate product and process diversification, shift to higher value-added production, technology upgrading and R&D activities." It would be run by the Industrial Development, SMEs and Cooperatives ministry and spend up to MUR4.4bn (US$111m) until 2025. Officials told just-style details of its operation are currently being worked out.

Minister of Industrial Development, SMEs and Cooperatives, Soomilduth Bholah, described the plan as "a policy framework that should be implemented to bring about transformational changes."

It would deliver policies that "ensure that the sector sustains its momentum and increase its resilience amidst the backdrop of emerging and unpredicted challenges associated with the outbreak of Covid-19." 

Optimistic for 2021

Arif Currimjee, vice president of the Mauritius Export Association (MEXA), told local media outlets that the industry association welcomed the establishment of a modernisation fund "aimed at innovating within the sector and new steps in boosting exports." 

The official said that while MEXA was going to take "a prudent approach" in supporting export sales, it was "nevertheless optimistic for 2021."

Speaking last month, MEXA chairman Patrice Robert said: "We can feel a new dynamism within the sector. The geopolitics of the world, namely, the US-China trade war coupled with the good image of Mauritius as a safe manufacturing location have helped to attract orders to our shores."

In a foreword to the report, Richard Kozul-Wright, director of UNCTAD's globalisation and development strategies division, said proactivity was needed given Mauritius faces important challenges. 

"Preferential access erosion and heightened international competition are leading to a progressive loss of competitiveness in its manufacturing sector," he warned. 

He said traditional Mauritius textile and clothing markets, such as those in Europe and the United States, would remain of key importance, given that ongoing trade administration and transport costs are hindering Mauritius-based manufacturers ability to sell into neighbouring markets in Africa.

As reported on just-style last month, the Mauritian textile and clothing export segment has been hit hard by lockdowns in key markets during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Figures released by MEXA show that between January and September, the country's clothing and textile exports were worth MUR12bn (US$298m), compared to MUR15.7bn (US$390m) for the same period last year – a drop of 23.6%.