Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC) recently created a flurry of disbelief with its announcement that the apparel exports from the country will expand by about 40 per cent this fiscal. In an official statement, the Council declared, “AEPC is working with a target to achieve a 40 per cent increase in apparel exports this financial year with a major focus on new medical textiles. This will take our total apparel exports up from US $ 15.4 billion last fiscal to about US $ 22 billion in 2020-21.”
The statement seems to be based on some positive indications which show that India will have more business in the coming days, like industry leaders confirmed that they are receiving orders that were earlier being done by China. Further, India is witnessing month-over-month (M-o-M) growth. As compared to June ’20 export figures of US $ 803.37 million, India grew by 32.33 per cent in July ’20. In addition, some apparel manufacturing companies now have a major focus on medical textile products. Even SMEs are focusing on products like surgical gowns, etc.
On the other hand, the reality is that so far, India’s apparel exports have dropped to US $ 1446 million during April to June 2020, showing a decline of over 62 per cent over last year’s first quarter. However, with the gradual opening up of the international markets, it is also estimated that our exports will end up close to 65-70 per cent of last year. India’s apparel exports plunged 22.10 per cent in July ’20 compared to the same month of 2019. Even in the month of August, RMG witnessed degrowth of 14 per cent.
Most exporters and associations across the industry have a different view from AEPC, and none of them agree that India’s apparel export will grow 40 per cent. Many shared that they would be happy if they achieve their last year’s level.
Industry expert Sanjay Jain, MD, TT Ltd., says, “Half the fiscal is over, and we are down… so how is 40 per cent growth possible? We will need to grow at probably 60-70 per cent Y-o-Y for which even if orders come, we shall not have the capacity.” TT Ltd. is a vertically integrated company having strong reach into export as well as domestic markets.
There are also some short-term concerns for buyers as well as garment exporters, and one of them is the growing cases of COVID-19. It is creating uncertainty in India. One of the leading apparel exporters told Apparel Resources on the condition of anonymity, “Some buyers who are much concerned about coronavirus and allied factors are thinking of dropping business with India for a year. Five such buyers (brands) who have been working with us for two decades have signalled towards this.” The exporter is working with Japan and European countries. He further added that as far as order shifting from China to India is concerned, these are few and far between, and most of the speculations are on based assumptions and there is a lot of difference between assumptions and ground realities. Much hype has been created in this regard.
Speculations are rife that new buyers are looking at India, as they wish to reduce their sourcing from China or their existing sourcing network. At the same time, one should not forget that SMEs are the backbone of the apparel export industry, and it is very difficult for any SME to work with new clients, as considering the recent developments, there’s a huge lack of trust.
Tirupur contributes around 25 per cent in India’s overall apparel exports, and Raja M. Shanmugam, President, Tirupur Exporters Association, believes that there will be little growth, as the hub is getting a lot of enquiries, but these have to be properly worked out by the individual exporters.
“This is a very high figure and I disagree with the same. Overall, there should some growth, but I can’t vouch for the huge growth of 40 per cent,” he said. Regarding medical textiles, he added that the export of PPE and masks has just started. In Tirupur, most exporters are still in the process of starting the export of the same, and we can’t say how much time it will take.
Tirupur might expect some growth, but other hubs like Delhi-NCR and Jaipur are not sure about growth. And this is confirmed by many small to big exporters catering to different markets as well as different kinds of clients.
“As far as Jaipur cluster is concerned, we don’t see growth in the current fiscal. In order to survive, exporters must accept every viable order irrespective of how small it is,” said Aseem Singla, General Secretary, Garment Exporters Association of India (GEAR).
Apparel Resources also spoke to few buyers – from small buying agents to India’s biggest buying houses, and none of them were hopeful about growth. Most believed they would be satisfied if they could match the last year’s level. “I don’t think that there can be growth of 40 per cent. As far as fashion apparel is concerned, overall reduction expected is 30-35 per cent. Buyers are conservative to place orders, as they see that coronavirus cases are continuously growing in India. Even if we count the increasing export of medical apparels, I don’t feel that India will grow and that too 40 per cent,” reasoned Jyoti Saikia, MD, Triburg.
Every stakeholder of the industry is working hard to survive and strongly wishes that India’s apparel export should grow, but in the current scenario, it doesn’t seem happening anytime soon. Even looking at the ‘track record’ of ministry’s announcement regarding export target which is not achievable, looks like there’s no weight in AEPC’s announcement.