he European Textile and Clothing Industry faces a double challenge. On one hand, the coronavirus pandemic hit our sector more than others, recording a drop in turnover between 10% and 20%, when in retail trade it reached -25%. The trade deficit widened, particularly due to massive imports of masks and related products from China. On the other hand, the European Union has embarked on an ambitious process of green and digital transition, which has translated into a wave of regulation that will have a great impact on our companies.
Taking these two challenges into account, our industry is at a crossroads, and it is necessary to ensure that this crisis becomes an opportunity, and that we develop a new business model for a sustainable and competitive industry. According to EURATEX, such a business model will have to be supported by three pillars: transforming sustainability into a source of global competitiveness; investing in digitizing our industry, and ensuring that people have the right skills to do it; create a global textile market with equal rules and transparent supply chains for everyone.
The industry itself can do many things, but both Portuguese and European authorities must also be involved. Therefore, it’s with great joy that we welcome the European Commission’s initiative to develop a European Textile Strategy by the end of 2021. This strategy should include the following topics:
– Europe must guarantee effective market inspection, prevent unfair competition and ensure a levelled playing field. The continent has very restrictive social and environmental standards, and must protect the quality of its products. We often know that products made in other countries do not meet the same standards, and action regarding this problem is urgently needed.
– Europe should support the transition to a more sustainable and digital industry through specific funds and programmes. In fact, SMEs, given their size and abilities, do not have the power to innovate their products and processes in the short term. And Europe must also take a test-market approach in moving towards sustainability and circular economy.
– The green transition must carefully balance the cost of the process and the long-term benefits. Businesses and citizens can quickly lose interest if the transition does not bring any short / medium term benefits. So Europe should help the education and training systems to develop comprehensive and cutting-edge knowledge in the textile and clothing industry.
This can be achieved through initiatives such as LongLife Learning, Erasmus + and Pact for Skills. Our industries have an ageing workforce, and it is essential to ensure more training (reskill/upskill). Most importantly, the sector must attract the younger generation in order to renew itself and drive change.
Europe must have a coherent approach when legislating in different areas. All policies, from the Green Deal to the Sustainable Chemicals strategy, the EU Trade Strategy, or the EU Industry Strategy, must be consistent and not harm the industry.
With these measures taken, we are confident that the European textile industry can remain competitive worldwide, based on quality, design and innovation of its products and processes.