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Mauritius Showcases Sourcing Offer as Companies Look Away From China

Mauritius has long been versed in apparel and textile manufacturing, but its appeal as a sourcing destination may be becoming even more apparent as global trade tensions force brands and retailers to look for more stable, and particularly—duty free options.

The petite island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa returned to Texworld USA at the Javits Center in New York City Monday with a dedicated country pavilion after several years away from the show.

“USA is one of the most important markets for our textiles and apparel,” said Geerish Bucktowonsing the head of the traditional manufacturing division at the Economic Development Board of Mauritius. “Eighty percent of our exports to the U.S. are apparel and textiles.”

And the time is now to reassert itself as a sourcing option for American brands and retailers thanks to a tenuous trade market and tensions with China over tariffs and the like that are seeing U.S. companies look for alternate supply chain solutions.

“U.S. buyers are not only looking towards China, Asia. They are expensive,” Bucktowonsing said. “We share values of liberal economy, democracy, human rights…we follow these rules. It goes in line with what we call sustainability because we are a small island.”

Perhaps most importantly, Mauritius enjoys duty free shipment for U.S.-bound apparel and textiles under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade privilege program yet undisrupted by the Trump Administration, and one whose benefits are proving ideal at a time when trade is in the uncertain position it’s currently in.

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Mauritius is known for its high level of quality and attention to detail in manufacturing, specializing in the medium to higher-end of the market. Brands like Asos, Monoprix and Calvin Klein make product in Mauritius.

And though the country has been supplying textiles and apparel to the European Market for upward of 50 years, it is now “strongly” positioning itself to the U.S. and Canadian market, Bucktowonsing said.

“We have been one of the leading exporters from Africa to the USA,” Bucktowonsing said, adding that Mauritius is among the top 20 countries in the world when it comes to ease of doing business, according to the World Bank report, and it’s No. 1 in Africa.

More than that, it’s one of the rare countries that has enjoyed positive economic growth consistently since 1983, according to Bucktowonsing. Between 2001 and 2018, the average economic growth in Mauritius was 3.89 percent. For 2018, estimates peg the growth at 3.9 percent.

“It’s a well-managed and democratic country,” Bucktowonsing said. “Maurtius is another melting pot. People came from Africa, from Europe, from China, so we are a very diverse population.” Both things, Bucktowonsing added, are part of what makes Mauritius a reliable duty free sourcing destination.

Among the leading manufacturers in Mauritius, RT Knits counts the degradation of Sino-U.S. relations among its blessings for business.

“We think that this trade war between China and the U.S. is opening doors for other countries such as Mauritius and the fact that there’s AGOA is going to be interesting,” said RT Knits marketing executive Rebeccah Seedat. “There are definitely opportunities.”

RT Knits manufactures a range of basic products, from women’s wear and men’s wear, to children’s wear, maternity clothing and sportswear. Vertical integration helps the company remain both flexible and reliable, and its green factory means RT Knits is cutting back on its carbon footprint too.

While the conversation surrounding sourcing in Mauritius naturally turns to lead times, Seedat said speed to market is a minimal issue for the company as vertical integration means it can keep a stock of fabric on the floor. Additionally, air freight costs are quite manageable, she said.

“In our cost prices there’s no big difference between the sea freight and the air,” Seedat said. “It would be roughly between 15 cents to 30 cents depending on the weight, of course.”

At Denim De L’Ile, the trade war with China could also prove a boon for business.

“Whatever is going on between China and the U.S. is benefitting Mauritius because we’re duty free to the U.S.,” said Denim De L’Ile, or DDI, marketing manager Stefano Caccia. “We can actually see a growing interest from the U.S. customers.”

The Italian-owned, vertically integrated denim factory buys cotton, spins its own yarn, weaves its own fabric, cuts it, does the laundry—all by Italian standards, often using Italian machinery—and sells a full package product. DDI counts Asos and Armani Exchange among its clients.

“People need to change. Companies have been sourcing—especially medium-sized companies—have been sourcing over and over from China,” Caccia said. “Companies need to look at different sources and I think some countries in Africa offer that value proposition.”

And more than just the ease of doing business without the threat of tariffs, companies sourcing there may end up saving on costs, too.

“Landed price we are actually cheaper than China on many products,” Caccia said. “We are getting business from people that are moving out of China and coming to us.”