According to the official statistics released in Beijing, Chinese textile manufacturers are currently engaged in something of a machinery buying spree. Imports are up 31 per cent on the previous year's figures, with spending on such goods now topping the equivalent of US$51 billion a year.

The main thrust of their drive to update centres around sophisticated dyeing and finishing equipment. 21 per cent of all textile equipment purchased from outside sources in 200l fell into this category, as Chinese producers seek parity in this sector with their counterparts in the west.

It is a trend which most experts believe will accelerate as the century progresses and China seeks to sell finished goods rather than relying on volume sales of grey cloth for finishing at final destination.

Principal beneficiaries of the rising demand for machinery are the Germans, the Japanese and the Italians, with the Japanese and the Swiss also scoring considerable success with sales of state-of-the-art knitting machinery.

Meanwhile Chinese textile houses are busily off-loading redundant machinery to other Asian nations. Producers in Thailand, Pakistan and Bangladesh are keen customers for any items that improve standards in fabric printing, dyeing and finishing. Chinese machinery exports over the last 12 months were worth an estimated $278 million.

By Sonia Roberts.