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China aims to leap forward on eco-textiles

China aims to leap forward on eco-textiles Source:
Date: 02-11-2011
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SHANGHAI – As part of its plan for sustainable growth in its textile sector, China will focus on ‘quality rather than quantity’, according to Mr Sun Ruizhe, Vice President of China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC) as the country looks to improve the environmental and ethical profile of its industry and refocus on the domestic sector. John Mowbray reports from China.

As China’s textile sector faces the tough challenges of environmental pollution, water and energy shortages coupled with an expected export slow-down in the second half of 2011, CNTAC says the country will refocus its attention on servicing its rapidly growing domestic market and develop its own internal CSR standards to make progress on sustainable development.

The new shift in emphasis comes after higher production costs and weaker exports are expected to hit China’s textile and garment sector in the second half of this year – a situation which mirrors other Chinese manufacturing sectors’ and has sparked fears of China’s first export trade deficit since 1993.

Wei Jianguo, former vice-minister of commerce, told China Daily last week that although September and October are traditionally the peak time for contracts ahead of the festive season in Europe and the United States, demand is sharply down this year. “China’s export-reliant enterprises are facing their toughest time in years,” he said. The possibility of a full-year trade deficit cannot be ruled out next year. “Europe, China's biggest trading partner, is experiencing its worst recession for 60 years amid a continuing debt crisis and a beleaguered financial system”, he added. Trade between China and Europe was nearly US$480 billion in 2010, or 16.1% of the country’s total trade volume.

This comes despite continued export growth in the first half of 2011. Chinese exports of textile products increased 28.8 % to US$ 45.9 billion in this period. But more recently, CNTAC confirms that growth in the textile industry has suffered in both domestic and export markets, “due to higher costs internally and a greater demand in export markets for added-value products, which leads to increases in price [and tougher competition from abroad],” Sun Ruizhe, Vice President of CNTAC, told delegates at the recent Planet Textiles conference.

Some small and medium-sized textile enterprises have more recently suffered from financing difficulties as the government has tightened liquidity, and the industry is now starting to take a more long-term assessment of the sector as per its new 5-year plan. “China’s textile industry will abandon the developing mode of “race to the bottom” [in terms of low cost], and find an optimal balance between economic development and resource consumption,” he continued, “the inevitable choice we have is to reduce energy consumption and develop a low carbon industry ... to avoid future economic fluctuations both at home and abroad.”

Mr Sun went on to say that China’s textile sector also predicts huge growth to satisfy its own domestic sector. “We predict textile fibre production capacity will need to be a [mind-boggling] 253 million tonnes by 2050 in order to meet the domestic demand for textiles as consumers become wealthier (and as the population rises).”

But with current textile fibre production standing at around 75 million tonnes per annum, the big question is: where will all this additional textile fibre come from? How will it impact on the environment? And if China secures all this fibre, what will the rest of the global textile industry use to make its clothes?

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