Four Arab countries - Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia  - have drawn up a plan of action for the region's textiles sector, to combat competition from Asia and focus on free trade links.

They met at Regional Economic Forum in Tunis yesterday (13 December), the first held by the four countries since they signed the Arab Mediterranean Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

The plan makes provision for the strengthening of inter-regional trade and forging collaboration with international trading companies, in order to capture new markets in Europe - by far the main outlet for textiles produced in southern Mediterranean countries.

Delegates at the forum also discussed setting up field research groups to canvas for business in markets further afield, the US being one example.

Other themes under discussion were the creation of regional R&D network which would focus on the competitiveness of products, the use of new technologies and setting up of  a training centre for personnel.

According to a study presented at the forum, textile manufacturers in the southern Mediterranean have seen their share of the market in Europe decline following the dismantling of the multi-fibre agreement, and also the end of the quota regime in January 2005 which had guaranteed preferential access to their products.

These remain threatened by the influx of Chinese-origin garments destined for the European market with quotas on around a dozen categories of product being removed in January 2008.

By Stuart Todd.