South Africa can create new jobs and save thousands of existing clothing and textile jobs if a new growth package is implemented, said Ebrahim Patel, head of the industry's major trade union, (SACTWU).

Patel was speaking at the launch of the recently-held Cape Town Fashion Festival, a SACTWU initiative to promote the local design, manufacturing and marketing of clothing.

He underlined the need for a triple package: trade measures with China, a competitiveness package and an active 'buy local' campaign.

"China is rapidly consolidating in the South African market, and now accounts for more than half of all consumption in major clothing products. The proposed agreement with China should be benchmarked on 2002 import volumes with a voluntary quota set at such level to reverse the jobs loss of the last three years. We have seen more than 60 000 jobs lost since January 2003," he claimed.

"But trade measures are only of short term help. The fundamental challenge is to refocus the industry towards design innovation, quick response, quality production to offer the public a different value proposition," he added.

He called for an R6.5bn (US$1.0bn) investment programme for the industry over the next five years with the government committing at least R3 billion of this amount.

By Stuart Todd