The European Commission’s call to revive European industry was affirmed by the Junker Commission’s ten priorities as ‘strengthened industrial base’. Taking the example of textiles and fashion, Serge Piolat asks whether is the EU a good place for manufacturing.
Serge Piolat is the President of the European Apparel and Textile Confederation (EURATEX) and an entrepreneur with extensive international experience.
Like many other European manufacturing sectors, the production of textile and clothing goods was significantly offshored to the low-cost countries in the 1990s.
At the same time, many entrepreneurs took effective measures to keep their production in Europe and remain competitive in the rigorous global market. Innovation became a new business model. The companies opted for advanced know-how in production processes and variety of goods.
The sector managed to restructure and diversify its activities and nowadays, textile and clothing industry in Europe accounts for 174,000 companies, predominantly SMEs, and employs 1.66 million workers. Smart textiles made in Europe used in advanced construction, organ transplants and aerospace have become a reference across the world.
More trade for more jobs
Currently, 28% of European textile and fashion goods are exported out of the EU. The possibility to access new markets is an important incentive for companies to increase their production and thus, to create more jobs.
The free trade agreements (FTA) are intended to facilitate European companies’ access to the emerging and developed markets. A good example for our sector is the FTA concluded between the EU and Korea in 2011, thanks to which our companies increased their exports to Korea by more than 30%.
We are very positive about the negotiations over the ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US. It could open up a market of more than 300 million consumers who are keen on European fashion. Not to mention remarkable opportunities for our technical textiles to be used in protective equipment and for industrial and medical uses.
To achieve the desired results, Europe should put all its efforts not only into negotiating agreements, but also in encouraging companies, including SMEs, to export and become more international.
Producing in Europe
Rising costs in low-cost countries, “time to the market” and particularly, growing skills and quality demands are among the other factors which are bringing textile and fashion production back to Europe.
“Made in Europe” means that a product is manufactured with respect to the environment, consumer safety and labour standards. At a time when “sustainability” is the moto, textiles producers take advantage of their front runner position in terms of new technologies, energy and resource efficiency, water and waste management.
There is much ado about the Far East dirty fashion, but still few speak about European products’ excellence, innovation and responsiveness to social and environmental challenges.
Business friendly Europe
A strong industrial base is key for Europe’s global competitiveness and it is vital for economic revival and jobs creation. Calling for reindustrialisation of Europe, European leaders should make sure that the EU is a truly business-friendly environment.
Considering the importance of innovation, the European programmes should accelerate technology spill-over and market uptake of innovative solutions. SMEs should better benefit from digitalisation, international trade and funding for research and innovation.
With further simplification of legislation, the ease of doing business and access to finance, then certainly, the European textile industry has its best days ahead.