A resilient sector amid the crisis is one of the conclusions of a major study conducted by the International Trade Centre's (ITC) Global Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX) and Middle East and North Africa Textiles Programme (MENATEX) on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Tunisian textile-clothing sector. The report also shed light on the post-pandemic opportunities and the sector's recovery plan.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Industry and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, la Fédération Tunisienne du Textile et de l'Habillement (FTTH) and the Technical Center for Textiles, the study is based on a survey conducted by national and international experts in 248 companies, spread over nine regions and seven production chains, between April and September 2020.
Despite the pandemic, the survey results show that 87% of the sector managed to keep their operations active, and thanks to the technical support of GTEX/MENATEX programme, 60% of companies converted their production lines to protective equipment.
The country was the first to meet the European demand for protective masks. During the first semester of 2020, Tunisia was ranked 4th supplier of the European Union for washable masks. The regional and international community has praised this proactive approach to crisis management.
Given that most of the world's major economies are still struggling to reopen, the study estimates that the sector's recovery will also be slow. "The results of this research confirm that we need to be patient, persistent and adapt to the new reality of the world and the sector," said Mr. Nafâa Ennaifer, Vice President of la Fédération Tunisienne du Textile et de l'Habillement (FTTH).
The study notes that few of the measures proposed by the Tunisian government have really benefited companies. Only a minority of companies have had access to state-guaranteed credit at a money market rate of 1.75%, and companies in difficulty have come under heavy pressure from the tax authorities and the national social security fund.
The impacts of the health crisis could have been more severe if companies in the textile-clothing sector had not adapted their production to protective equipment and medical devices.
Matthias Knappe, Programme Manager of ITC's GTEX/MENATEX programme, explains that the production of medical textiles represents a real opportunity for the Tunisian textile-clothing sector. "As part of the Smart post-COVID-19 action plan, Tunisia has offered solutions for hygiene and personal care textiles. This will allow the sector to serve the local Tunisian market and explore exports to EU countries (France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands) and encourage investment in medical textiles." While fashion remains the industry's backbone, protective equipment is emerging as a viable area for diversification. Mr. Knappe emphasized the commitment and leadership of FTTH and its members in conducting the study and their willingness to boost the sector.
The post-COVID action plan is based on five strategies:
Solve cash flow problems and ensure business viability
Strengthen companies' internal capacities
Develop synergies between companies in the sector
Strengthen the local market's production capacity
Strengthen integration, export capacity and the international marketing image of Tunisia
This year, the GTEX/MENATEX programme, in collaboration with FTTH, is launching an international campaign to promote the Tunisian textile-clothing label. The video produced as part of this campaign, "Tomorrow is already here," shows that despite the pandemic, Tunisian companies are proactive with great technological and productive capacities while adopting responsible practices towards their workers and the environment.
About the project
The Global Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX) and the Middle East and North Africa Textiles Programme (MENATEX) are implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) over a period of 3 years (November 2018 to December 2021). They are co-financed by the Swiss and Swedish governments respectively.