Sri Lanka’s textile and apparel export industry is likely to experience its highest rate of growth in 2018, but will need to invest in technological advancements if it is to retain the momentum, a new survey has found.
As the country sharpens its focus on achieving US$20bn in export earnings by 2020, some 77% of CEOs interviewed by the Oxford Business Group (OBG) for its recent Business Barometer predicted the garment industry would be the growth engine for exports in the year ahead.
Apparel and textiles are the backbone of Sri Lanka’s tradable sector, representing 47% of total exports in 2016. And while industries such as tourism, food and electronics are among those identified by the government as priority areas for diversifying the country’s export base, business leaders expect traditional industries to underpin growth for the foreseeable future.
Export industries received a welcome boost in May last year when the European Union (EU) reinstated Sri Lanka’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status, which had previously been rescinded over human rights concerns in 2010. The move removed the majority of import duties on Sri Lankan goods entering the European single market, and likely drove the 3% increase in textile and garment exports in 2017 to just over US$5bn.
But while the immediate future looks bright for the garment segment, those surveyed suggest Sri Lanka would be wise to devise strategies for technological advancements in manufacturing processes.
“Developments in innovative areas such as 3D printing and robotics are likely to erode some of the country’s current competitive advantages in the years to come, as without the need for lower labour costs, clothing giants may start to move production facilities closer to their main consumer markets,” survey authors explain.
And if Sri Lanka is to achieve its ‘Vision 2025’ target of developing into a highly competitive knowledge-based economy, it will need to overcome notable shortages in the labour market – not only in terms of skills, but also in raw numbers.