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Tunisia: Social stability inseparable from promotion of textile says CEO of CETTEX

In an interview with AfricanManager, Samir Haouat, Director General of CETTEX emphasized the need for establishing social stability to promote the textile and clothing sector, which was able to withstand the economic downturns that occurred in Tunisia.

Interview:

1 / Can you take stock of the sector’s activities during the past period?

Textile and clothing exports posted an increase in value of 8.38% in dinars, or 4.25% in Euros during the first 9 months of 2011, compared to the same period of the previous year. The textile industry such as clothing participates in this growth with increases of 8.1% and 8.7% in value, compared to the first 9 months of 2010. Clothing and fabrics, which are the main exports, posted honorable increases in value, and this on all the traditional markets of Tunisia. Double-digit growth rates have been even achieved in promising markets, like Germany (24.5%) and the Netherlands (22.4%), which represent significant outlets for Tunisian industry.

Did you record, during this period, a departure of foreign companies specialized in this area?

No. I have not heard or even seen the departure of a foreign company. Instead, we have tried to reassure our foreign partners and investors that have been in Tunisia for many years. Even with the October 23 election, they are all impressed by the results.

2 / What are your preparations especially since it is a start of the season in which companies receive order books?

As a center that supports the textile and clothing sector, the CETTEX is constantly adapting its services and advice to the market both in terms of intelligence, technical assistance and expertise, laboratory testing and training programs , thanks to a national network of expertise supported by many international partners (MODSPE PARIS, IFTH, CEDITH, IFM, UNIDO, CITEVE, NEXT TECHNOLOGY, JICA, TEXTRANET ….).

In addition to its usual services, the CETTEX develops an applied research unit that assists companies in developing new products or new processes. This is done in collaboration with research institutions in Tunisia and support from funding mechanisms put in place to this effect such as PIRD, PNRI…

The Center also participates, at the level of structuring projects dedicated to the sector through the establishment of a Technology Resource Center (TRC) in the textile technology park of Monastir. The center, which is under study, will play a leading role in the dynamics of innovation and technological development within the industry by providing high-quality specific, customized and cutting-edge services in the areas of textile ennobling and toxicological testing.

As part of the Program of Support for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, CETTEX began along with the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ) a pilot project for the establishment of a system of innovation management in the center to assist companies in their innovation process.

As for the process of moving from outsourcing to co-contracting and finished products, and in association with the new Program of Support for Businesses Competitiveness and Improving Market Access (CPTED), CETTEX continues to mobilize its expertise in specialized areas to help the sector’s businesses adapt their production to the short circuit and fast fashion.

CETTEX also offers to businesses assistance services in organization and production management on such issues as the establishment of method offices, flexible organization, optimization and self-help groups.

The creation of the School of Fashion Crafts in CETTEX backs up this process, with the introduction of modular Qualifying Course (PMQ) developed in partnership with the Paris MODSPE School. This project allows companies to benefit in the short term of skills in key fashion crafts necessary to the process of transition from subcontracting to co-contracting and finished products. The training conducted to date involves the specialties of industrial designers, industrial designs and product manager.

Before the end of 2011, the center continued with two new PMQ specialties:

“Product manager” and “models in lingerie.” This choice comes from a series of consultations with industrialists, who, most of them were seeking confirmed designers. According to the previous edition, the training will be provided by internationally renowned experts.

Meanwhile, the center conducts at present training sessions for the benefit of workers operating in garment businesses located in Kef and Testour. This initiative, which aims to facilitate the availability of qualified personnel in inland areas, assists operating companies to meet their commitments vis-à-vis their clients and prompt the settlement of new developers in these areas.

As part of an environmental approach, the CETTEX is finalizing the MED-TEST project (Transfer of environmentally sound technologies), initiated with our international partners (UNIDO). This pilot project, initiated in three countries of the Mediterranean basin, namely Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt with the support of national organizations, seeks to strengthen existing capacity in cleaner production, especially for the reduction from the source in consumption of water, energy and chemicals by major stakeholders. Three Tunisian sectoral technical centers participated in this project: CETTEX, CTAA, CNCC, i.e. 15 industrial units, including 6 textile finishing units.

These companies have benefited from assistance and training actions to improve their industrial competitiveness. A national information seminar and others across the Mediterranean basin will be organized during the year 2012 to disseminate the results

of the final project and accordingly encourage new companies to mainstream this new environment approach. To support investments in Tunisia, CETTEX also offers backup services to foreign investors and contractors who come to explore the potential of the Tunisian site and the possibilities of setting up there or partnering with the sector’s industrialists. This support for the settlement can take many forms ranging from prospecting customers, conducting feasibility studies of the project, assistance in the implementation and realization of customized training for production staff.

3 / How do you see the future of this sector?

Despite the effects of the global economic crisis and the disruption experienced by the country following the Revolution of January 14, 2011, we can say that the Tunisian textile and clothing industry did well despite strong competition from countries around the Mediterranean. It remains one of the first industries in attracting FDI, job creation and exports.

In the first 9 months of this year, 66 new projects were achieved and 2,900 job positions created.

The right position could not be conquered without the mobilization of all stakeholders. Indeed, a huge collaborative effort has been made over the months, in order to maintain the activities and keep a good social climate within the sector’s businesses. The tremendous human potential, the first source of wealth of Tunisia, was instrumental in these key moments, to strengthen the gains and stability of the country, despite the social claims of certain companies. As such, it is necessary to pay special tribute to women, who account for 80% of jobs in industry, for their perseverance and continued support to the sector.

All these efforts will be stepped up in the future to ensure the economic influence of Tunisia in the world.

The consolidation of trade exchange in the first 9 months of 2011 also reflects the confidence of European prime contractors on our site. The growth of imports of the sector’s inputs (9.4% in Tunisian dinars compared to the first 9 months of 2010) leaves us optimistic in the next period about the opportunities offered by the sector for Tunisian and foreign industrialists. It should be noted that CETTEX’s support was sought in the past months by Tunisian and European entrepreneurs wishing to develop activities in Tunisia, particularly in niches with high added value.

4 / Is there any clear message to be sent to the future government to make a positive contribution in promoting this sector?

One word: pay more interest to the social climate to meet all challenges and above all to reassure our partners and those wishing to settle in our new Tunisia. If we manage to achieve social stability, we could achieve all our goals since Tunisia has already many advantages enabling it to distinguish itself from other competing countries. In addition to its geostrategic position that is at the heart of the Euro-Med logistic chain, its confirmed expertise in clothing, the flexibility of its businesses and control of manufacturing delays, the Tunisian offer is well suited to the needs of foreign clients particularly in terms of Fast Fashion. With the proliferation of intermediate collections of ready-to-wear, short-term purchase now represents 30% of the needs of retailers. And this market share is constantly changing, according to a recent estimate of the French Institute of Fashion, which enhances the competitiveness of our industry.

In addition, our country has a social legislation in harmony with international labor standards which the majority of companies respect, in contrast to practices in many competing countries. All of these achievements must be put forward to enhance the image of the Tunisian textile and clothing among these potential customers.

Real efforts are to be made at the level of infrastructure and logistics which is a critical element in the country’s attractiveness.

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