Industry statistics released at the Expofil trade fair in Paris paint a generally gloomy picture of the European textile scene.

A report specially prepared for the exhibition's organisers by IFM/ CTCOE talked of order books "remaining at below normal levels" throughout 2002, with prospects for 2003 "uncertain."

The report pinpoints "constantly fluctuating raw materials costs" as one of the causes of current problems and cites regular users of woollen yarns as particularly hard hit by high prices.

However, one brighter note is the fact that during the first half of 2002 exports of spun and filament yarns produced within the EU increased to 245,000 tonnes, a 7 per cent climb on 2001 figures.

In a country by country survey, the report's compilers suggest that Italy is faring better than most of its EU neighbours, with sizable orders from both the USA and from Russia helping to boost its woollen trade business.

Sales of cotton fabrics, particularly denim and shirtings, also remain buoyant, although at the expense of Italy's own spinning industry. Italian weavers and knitters are increasingly looking to third world nations or to Turkey as a source of raw materials says the report.

French producers are managing to balance their books with increased export sales, but only to other EU nations. By contrast, yarn producers in the UK are finding their best markets outside the EU. The UK's overseas sales now make up five per cent of all EU exports.

German producers are also striving to combat what they describe as generally sluggish trading conditions by concentrating on long haul business. Sales to non-EU nations now account for a third of all German yarn exports which are up 9 per cent on last year's figures.

Talk among Spanish spinners is of a slowdown in both domestic and export sales creating an overall 7 per cent decline in output.

By Sonia Roberts.