During the 1990s, international liberalisation of market access accelerated the pace of structural change in the textile industry. Even though production methods in the industry are frequently capital-intensive, producers in the European Union are increasingly faced with competitive pressure by imports from low-wage countries such as the CEECs, China, India and Turkey. Within the EU itself, the sectoral trend runs towards stagnating production volumes and declining employment, which translates into a relative slide of sectoral importance compared to overall manufacturing. In Austria (like in Belgium and Italy), the textile industry continues to be of considerable importance. Textile producers in these countries can sustain their competitiveness in a liberalised – and thus highly competition-driven – market only when they are able to develop new markets and to boost productivity by raising their real net output. Added value can be obtained only by shifting away from labour-intensive mass products and concentrating on new high-quality specialised products. In response to clear indications of a new regime of international division of labour, this will usually mean the transfer of labour-intensive processes to low-wage countries ("passive across-the-border processing"). Compared to the EU in general, Austrian textile production shows two special features: 1. Between 1989 and 1998, productivity gains were extremely high, at an average of 10 percent p.a. In 1998, Austria actually achieved the second-highest productivity level within the EU (about 35 percent above the EU average, or 17 above the U.S. level). 2. Productivity gains by the Austrian textile industry are due mainly to an increase in real net output; domestic producers on average added 5.3 percent in value annually, which is substantially higher than the EU-15 average of just 0.5 percent. The Austrian textile sector restructured during the 1990s. Adjustment efforts made by the surviving domestic producers (especially specialisation, change to higher-value products and shifting of labour-intensive production steps) are reflected in the extraordinarily high productivity level, which provides an excellent foundation to remain internationally competitive. Efforts to develop new markets for high-quality textile products have been successful only in part, so that in the future they will have to be enhanced in order not only to compensate for market share loss on traditional export markets (especially the European single market), but also to improve participation in new growth markets. Initiatives towards networking and cooperation can further help the Austrian textile industry to cope with structural change. At least in Vorarlberg, the key prerequisites are in place to pursue a cooperation strategy: a dense cluster of related economic activities and company strategies that allow for greater collaboration. Thus, three out of four textile producers in Vorarlberg have gathered experience in cooperation, and two out of three companies surveyed by "Textil 2000+" advocate deepening sectoral cooperation. In implementing such a strategy, international examples of cooperation within the textile industry at a regional level could serve as models.
Strukturwandel in der Textilindustrie; Structural Change in the Textile Industry
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