Thai apparel chiefs said today they expect garment exports to slide this year but not by as much as first thought as the industry fights back against fierce competition from Asian rivals.

Suchart Chantranakarach, chairman of the Thai Garment Manufacturers Association (TGMA), said he sees exports down around eight per cent this year, far less than original projections of 17-18 per cent.

Thailand exported garments valued at $3.16 billion in 2001, down six per cent from the previous year, and in the first eight months of 2002 it exported $1.93bn of garments, down 9.4 per cent year-on-year.

Suchart said many garment firms had reported a rise in overseas orders since August and if that trend continues the country could post a three per cent rise in 2003 exports.

He said the industry was now concentrating on the value-added segment of the textile market after a number of garment makers quit Thailand and moved their operations to China.

"Even if a war between the US and Iraq breaks out, it would have less impact on Thailand's exports, particularly the garment products," he said.

"This is because the US will still need such basic necessities as clothing."