India’s textiles and garments exports have declined over the last five years by 7.6 per cent to $34.24 billion in calendar year 2023 from $37.16 billion in 2018, with China, the EU, Bangladesh and Vietnam dominating global garments trade, says a report by research body Global Trade and Research Initiative.

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In the same five-year period, India saw a 25.46 per cent increase in textile and garment imports to $9.18 billion in 2023 from $7.32 billion, indicating a domestic demand unmet by local production, the report titled ‘Regaining textile glory’ suggested.

Steps that could help improve competitiveness of Indian textiles include promoting production and export of synthetic apparels, strengthening weaving and processing sectors, simplifying fabric supplies/imports, negotiating possible non-tariff barriers in FTAs, liberalising labour laws and making more factories fast fashion industry (FFI) compliant, the report proposed.

In 2023, India’s garment exports were a mere $14.5 billion, significantly trailing behind China ($114 billion), the EU ($94.4 billion), Vietnam ($81.6 billion) and even Bangladesh ($43.8 billion), the report pointed out.

“This shows India significantly trails behind China and the EU and”is also falling behind smaller countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam. From 2013 to 2023, Bangladesh’s garment exports grew by 69.6 per cent, Vietnam’s by 81.6 per cent, but India’s grew by only 4.6 per cent… Globalisation has significantly affected the garment industry by increasing competition and moving production to lower cost labor countries,” it added.

Synthetic fabrics

Clothing bought by developed countries was made of mixed synthetics, while its share in Indian exports was less than 40 per cent. “This is the key reason for India’s weak garment exports. Today, most formal, sports and fashion wear uses synthetic fabrics,” it said adding that diversifying into synthetics would allow Indian manufacturers to run their factories the whole year as there would be demand in the autumn and winter too.

The report further said there was a need for strengthening weaving and process as only large units with the latest technology can meet the quality requirements. 

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Indian exporters also need to keep up with the fast-paced demands of the fast fashion industry (FFI), which includes major players like Walmart, Zara, H&M, Gap, and online retailers like Amazon and Zalando, to be able to benefit from it.

Negotiating non tariff barriers in its proposed FTAs with partners such as the UK and the EU is also important for actual gains and relaxing labour laws to encourage large units were other suggestions made in the report.