Sri Lanka’s apparel industry, a cornerstone of the nation’s economy, has been besieged by a persistent downturn, with October exports plummeting 20% year-on-year to a mere US$330.95 million. This marks the 14th consecutive month of relentless declines, casting a shadow over the sector’s future.
A multitude of factors have conspired to fuel this downward spiral. The global economic slowdown, particularly in major Western markets, has dampened demand for apparel products, eroding export prospects. Coupled with this, persistent disruptions in global supply chains have exacerbated logistical challenges, further hindering the industry’s progress.
The repercussions of these challenges have reverberated across the industry. Exports to all major markets contracted in October, reflecting a slowdown in orders. The United States, Sri Lanka’s largest apparel market, witnessed a 16.81% year-on-year decline in exports, amounting to US$128.22 million. Similarly, exports to the EU, excluding the UK, suffered a 24.79% year-on-year setback, reaching US$110 million.
The UK market also experienced a decline, albeit of a milder 14.56%, totaling US$43.66 million. However, exports to other markets bore the brunt of the downturn, plummeting a staggering 21.69% year-on-year to US$49.07 million.
The cumulative impact of these declines is evident in the overall export figures for the January–October 2023 period, which plunged 20.5% year-on-year to US$3,748.72 million.
The industry’s woes have not gone unnoticed. The Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), the industry’s representative body, has voiced its concerns, urging the government to intervene with supportive measures. Tax relief and improved access to finance are among the key measures advocated by JAAF to revitalize the sector.
The ongoing decline in Sri Lanka’s apparel exports poses a significant threat to the nation’s economy. The apparel industry is a major employer and a substantial contributor to the country’s GDP. Its revival is imperative for Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and long-term prosperity.
The government must act decisively to address the challenges hindering the apparel industry’s growth. By implementing supportive measures and fostering a conducive business environment, Sri Lanka can revitalize its apparel sector and safeguard its economic vitality.