Seven years after the expiration of the Multi Fiber Agreement (MFA), the island nation of Mauritius remains a world leader in the field of textile and apparel production, a phenomenon analysts are now attributing to the ability of Mauritian companies to both consolidate and adapt quickly to a changing market.
In a report from the Financial Times, several leaders of the Mauritian garment manufacturing industry speculated about how the geographically remote, resource-starved island had managed to maintain its status as a garment industry powerhouse, a designation originally earned thanks to preferential treatment from the now-defunct MFA. Chief among the causes discussed were the vertical integration of Mauritius’ largest manufacturing concerns, and the low cost of shipping between Mauritius and Europe, the market for a majority of the island’s exports.
Since the 2005 end of the MFA, the Mauritian garment industry has become highly consolidated, with some ten companies accounting for 90% of the island’s apparel production.
Such companies as CMT Spinning Mills and CIEL Textiles have turned themselves into international conglomerates with a mixture of manufacturing holdings spread between their native Mauritius, neighboring Madagascar, and the textile powerhouses of SE Asia.
By combining their efforts in this manner, Mauritian manufacturers have managed to service both the intricate, high-quality orders on which their reputations were built, as well as the demands of fast-fashion manufacturers who require shorter turnaround times. CIEL, for instance, produces upper market garments in its domestic and Indian factories, sweaters and pullovers in its Madagascar-based factories, and fast-fashion items in Bangladeshi factories.
The preferential trade status afforded by the EU to such countries as Madagascar and Bangladesh allows Mauritian manufacturers to remain competitive in both upper and lower level markets.
However, Mauritius’ future remains uncertain, thanks to the West’s shifting trade policies. While Mauritius’ garment industry has managed to weather the expiration of the MFA, mandated restrictions from the US and EU, specifically those laid out in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), may restrict the Mauritian garment industry’s future growth. Keenly aware of this prospect, garment manufacturers in Mauritius have already begun diversifying their businesses and looking for unexplored export markets.
As in the past, the key to Mauritius’ economic survival may lie in the ability of its industrial leaders to outsmart their more resource rich competitors.