Rapidly Changing Textiles A Double-Eged Sword

RAPIDLY CHANGING TEXTILES A “DOUBLE-EGED SWORD”The U.S. textile industry is in the midst of its darkest days, but armed with accurate information and a willingness to fight for its survival, the industry can secure a profitable future, according to Dr. Thomas J. Malone, president and COO of MillikenandCompany, Spartanburg, S.C.Malone, delivering the keynote address for the 10th Annual National Textile Center (NTC) Forum February 10 in Charlotte, N.C., said the textile/fiber/fabrication/retail complex is the most rapidly changing industrial complex in the world.However, rapidly changing is a double-edged sword in this case, he said. In the past decade, we have seen advances in our materials, technologies and manufacturing systems that could best be described as pipe dreams when we first gathered to develop a mission statement [for NTC] in 1992. The flip-side of rapidly changing is the accelerated job loss and erosion of our manufacturing base that continues in spite of these developments that are intended to make us stronger.Malone said contributing factors include escalation of imports from the Far East and the continuing devaluation of Asian currencies. However, trade agreements supposedly negotiated to benefit U.S. industry have also had a devastating effect. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), heralded as a benefit to U.S. industry, has resulted in serious overcapacity, Malone said. Since NAFTAs inception, domestic production has decreased by 6.4 billion square yard equivalents, despite considerable growth in U.S. market potential. One of three U.S. textile jobs has been lost since NAFTA was implemented.The Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) has the same potential impact, especially if the U.S. dyeing and finishing clause is not included in the legislation.To survive as a healthy industry, Malone said the U.S. must: block new agreements that allow duty-free foreign fabric; prevail in the CBI dye and finish issue; improve the competitiveness of both U.S. cotton and man-made fiber; and focus on differentiated products and short lead times. By Jim Phillips, Executive EditorMarch 2002