Mystery surrounds the sudden withdrawal of the British Textile Machinery Association (BTMA) from the organisation of ITMA 2003.

ITMA - the largest textile machinery exhibition in the world - is set to be held in Britain for the first time in 2003. The BTMA was due to play a key role in the organisation of the event, but Birmingham NEC - the venue where it is being held - has confirmed that the association is no longer involved. The NEC insists that the exhibition will still take place as planned, although responsibility for its organisation will now rest wholly with the exhibition centre and CEMATEX (the Comite Europeen des Constructeurs de Machines Textiles.

The NEC said it could not comment on why the BTMA was no longer involved. "That is a matter for CEMATEX," said Maria Avery, exhibition director at the NEC. "We are still continuing with the management and organisation of the event as before."

CEMATEX is refusing to talk about the withdrawal of BTMA. "We do not want to comment on this aspect of the exhibition at all," said Mrs Evelyne Cholet, the general secretary of CEMATEX. "It will be organised in the UK as planned. There is no reason for anyone to be concerned. ITMA is a CEMATEX exhibition and we will carry on with organising it."

The BTMA has offered no explanation. Director Eric France said: "I was not at the meeting concerned. You need to speak to Steve Combes, who was the acting chairman at the time."

Asked to confirm that the BTMA was no longer involved in organising the event, he said he had no comment to make. Steve Combes, we were told, is away at the moment and unavailable to make any comment.

The question mark hanging over the BTMA and its involvement with the exhibition is the latest in a series of problems that have dogged the planning of ITMA 2003.

Towards the end of last year the Italian knitting machine company Protti Fashiontronix announced that it was pulling out of the exhibition and setting up a rival event. At the time, Umberto Protti said: "The decision to not take part in the exhibition at Birmingham is due to the fact that England is no longer an interesting market for these items."

Earlier this year the German flat knitting machine builder Stoll also announced that it would not be exhibiting at Birmingham. Instead, it intends to attend the rival Knitting Machinery Exhibition in Milan the week before. "The UK is now an insignificant market for all flat knitting machine manufacturers and is not important in terms of sales at present compared with markets such as Italy and Spain," said joint managing director Heinz-Peter Stoll.

CEMATEX says it is still confident that ITMA, which normally attracts 1,500 exhibitors and 150,000 visitors, will be a success, despite the set-backs. The NEC says it expects to attract exhibitors and visitors who would not normally attend.

"We expect to see more interest from the United States because it is being held in an English speaking country," said Maria Avery. "We also expect to get increased support from developing countries like India and Pakistan."

The event will take place from 22-29 October 2003. Application forms for the exhibition will go out on 1 October this year. Only then will organisers discover the true level of support they will have in 2003.

By Clive Hincliffe.