Pakistan ‘not a threat’ to EU’s textile sector

When it comes to the textile industry, Pakistan is a partner, not as Barbara Matera has suggested, a threat to the EU, argues Safdar Sohail.

By Safdar Sohail

25 Apr 2014

In an article published on The Parliament Magazine’s website, Barbara Matera tried to give the impression that the women workers in Pakistan’s textile industry were maltreated and that the influx of the Pakistani textile sector in Italy post-GSP (generalised scheme of preferences) plus would hurt the local industry.

These assertions made by the worthy MEP from Italy are premised on unspecified sources for which no references have been given. It is regrettable that such sweeping generalisations have been used to advance a narrative aimed at maligning Pakistan’s textile’s sector.
Though the proof of burden hangs on the author, we would like to invite the attention of Matera and the Parliament Magazine’s readers to the fact that Pakistan, having ratified all UN conventions on human rights, is also carrying out the decent work programme under the International Labour Organization.

Moreover, Pakistan has also recently applied for the better work programme. Nearly all brands operating in Pakistan carry out compliance audits of textile units every six months or in some cases on a quarterly basis.

"Barbara Matera tried to give the impression that the women workers in Pakistan’s textile industry were maltreated and that the influx of the Pakistani textile sector in Italy post-GSP plus would hurt the local industry"

The presence of such a strong relationship between exporters and buyers prevents most of the vulnerable conditions mentioned in Matera’s article.

The gradual increase of women in the textile work force is a welcome phenomenon in Pakistan though the figures of their participation are lower than that stated in the article.

Considering that improving the working conditions for women has a domino effect, leading to greater investment in children’s health, education and household income, the government of Pakistan has been encouraging employers to hire more women.

In Pakistan, as in the rest of the world, female workers spend more on their family. If the harassment of women in textile sector was an issue, their participation in the garment sector, where most of the women are employed, would not have grown during the last few years in a socially conservative country like Pakistan.

Also, work organisation in garment factories in Pakistan is such that harassment could not be a major work hazard. In fact due to better working practices, women are actually highly valued as workers, are given proper salaries and working conditions that then attract more women to work the textile industry.

With GSP plus, female participation in the work force in the garments sector could modestly grow with positive social development effects. This precisely is the link between international trade and sustainable development which the European commission and the European parliament want to promote by linking market access to the implementation of UN Conventions in the GSP plus Scheme.

Protectionist views should not misuse human rights issues to the detriment of the same labour rights for which GSP plus scheme was initially implemented.

Pakistan’s textile sector is not a threat to the Italian textile sector. Pakistan is nowhere near the safeguard thresholds that the EU has put in place in the GSP regulation.

Out of total imports of €378bn in 2012 in Italy, imports from Pakistan were only €430m (0.11 per cent). Italy’s major importing partners in textiles and textile articles are China (23.65 per cent), Turkey (6.06 per cent), Tunisia (3.82 per cent) Bangladesh (3.60 per cent), and India (3.31 per cent) not Pakistan with only 1.39 per cent of the market share.

Pakistan’s exports could potentially grow due to GSP plus in Italy but more so in the segments of raw materials and intermediate products.

But we also expect that like previously, when Pakistan’s exports modestly increased to Italy, due to GSP plus market access from 2002-2005, Italian exports to Pakistan also grew, especially textile machinery exports.

The textile supply chain between the two countries is already interlocked in a significant way. Some alarmist projections should not distract the textile sectors of both countries from joining hands to deepen this mutual beneficial interlocking and together should look towards Asia for future growth.