No home advantage, garment exporters eye Vietnam base

By: and |
New Delhi | Published: October 26, 2015 12:26:07 AM

The Indian textile and garment industry sees its woes accentuated by the recently-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that could give Vietnam duty-free access to the US market.

Analysts believe some Indian companies may shift base to Vietnam due to the lure of duty-free access to the US and other TPP markets, like they did some years ago to Bangladesh to grab duty advantage in exports as well as low labour costs. (Reuters)Analysts believe some Indian companies may shift base to Vietnam due to the lure of duty-free access to the US and other TPP markets, like they did some years ago to Bangladesh to grab duty advantage in exports as well as low labour costs. (Reuters)

Vietnam could be the new Bangladesh for Indian garment exporters. Hit by a massive duty disadvantage vis-a-vis competitors, stringent labour laws, poor infrastructure and inadequate policy support at home, the Indian textile and garment industry sees its woes accentuated by the recently-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that could give Vietnam duty-free access to the US market.

Analysts believe some Indian companies may shift base to Vietnam due to the lure of duty-free access to the US and other TPP markets, like they did some years ago to Bangladesh to grab duty advantage in exports as well as low labour costs.

Vietnam has already beaten India as the world’s third-largest garment exporter and the threat from the nation appears more real given the fact that the US accounted for 22-30% of India’s garment exports in recent years and Indian exporters have to pay duty in the range of 14-32% for the shipment of textiles and garments there. The TPP between the US and 11 other Asia-Pacific nations, including Vietnam, represents roughly 40% of global gross domestic product and a third of world trade.

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“We employ 6,000 people in our fashion business in Chennai and Bengaluru. There is a high probability that 4,000 of those  jobs will move to Vietnam in 12 months,” Shailesh Pathak, executive director with Bhartiya Group, said at FE’s Digital India programme.

However, some other players, while recognising potential threat from Vietnam, chose to await the full text of the TPP, expected to be released next month.

Naishadh Parikh, director at Arvind Mills and the newly-appointed chairman of the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry, said: “The pact suggests there is a potential risk of investment and employment moving to select TPP countries, especially Vietnam. But until the full text is made public, it’s too early to say if Indian companies would shift base soon, as any such move depends on several other factors as well, including familiarity of the market.”

Parikh said as per information available, the TPP nations have to conform to the standards prescribed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which means labour costs may also go up in a TPP country for some investors if they are not following such norms already.

And the concerns aren’t restricted to Vietnam enjoying the duty advantage in garments, but much more. The US government’s yarn-forward rule, which requires the yarn and the fabric used in the final product to be made in one of the free trade partners to qualify for duty-free access under the trade pact, will be applicable to all the TPP nations.

SP Oswal, chairman of the Vardhman Group, said such a rule will mean Vietnam will have to either scale up capacities to manufacture yarn and other stuff to make garments for exports to the US or buy such items from another TPP country. This will hurt India’s exports of such textile items to Vietnam, he added. While Vietnam’s garment exports were to the tune of $21 billion in 2014, just behind China and Bangladesh, its textile exports stood at just $3 billion last year. In fact, Vietnam relies on other nations, including India, for sourcing textile items for making garments. In contrast, India exported garments  worth $16.85 billion in 2014-15, while its textile exports stood at $20.81 billion.

“Not just that, Chinese companies will take advantage of this situation and invest more in Vietnam to benefit from the duty-free access to the US,” Oswal added. As Chinese companies seek to shift investments to other nations to beat rising wage costs at home, the TPP would prompt them to invest in Vietnam, also because of its promixity with China.  According to a CII-Wazir report, China’s costs have risen three fold over the past seven years.

Already, India’s share in the US textile and apparel imports remained rather stagnant (6.3% in 2014 from 5.2% in 2005), thanks to a rising Vietnam, which managed to corner 9.3% of the US market in these segments in 2014 from as low as 3.2% in 2005, according to the US government data. And with the TPP, the situation could be even more daunting for India. As such, India has a disadvantage with competitors such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, which enjoy duty-free access to the EU, the biggest garment market for India.

However, while an opportunity has come to shift investments to Vietnam, not just for garment but even for textile companies, considering that Vietnam doesn’t grow cotton and needs textile items for making garments, not many Indian firms will be able to seize it at the moment, said a senior executive with a Gurgaon-based large garment company that exports to the US in huge volumes . “To set up a decent-sized textile or garment unit in Vietnam to gain from the duty advantage there, you need to invest at least Rs 1,000 crore. In an atmosphere of a global slowdown, a massive liquidity crunch and stressed balance sheets, it’s not possible for many Indian companies to move out immediately and invest,” he added.

Moreover, by the time Indian companies are ready, Chinese companies would, by then, have further entrenched their position there.

For its part, India also is negotiating a similar regional free-trade agreement called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with 15 other countries and has seven countries in common with TPP (Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei). It also hopes to bank on a proposed $300 million line of credit it extended last year to promote Indo-Vietnamese cooperation in the textile and garment sector, according to commerce ministry officials. The credit, to be disbursed through the Vietnam Exim Bank, is to be used mainly to set up a textiles and garment industrial park close to the Ho Chi Minh city as well as to help Indian and Vietnamese companies to forge joint ventures.

Although the TPP has other nations with interest in textiles, including Mexico, Vietnam is expected to hurt India the most.

However, the package of $300 million package provided by the Indian government for setting up units in Vietnam too small to make a meaningful impact.

Already a duty disadvantage at home has prompted some companies to expand outside India in recent years.

Raymond is investing $100 million in Ethiopia to set up a factory, while many others have shifted to Bangladesh.

Arvind Mills has been expanding its denim manufacturing in Bangladesh in a joint venture with Nitol group. Some mills are looking at acquisitions in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan too.

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