The textile industry is one of the main pillars of the Mauritian economy. In order to fight unemployment, which was rampant, the government created the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in 1971.
It has undergone many changes in its almost 30 years of existence. Equipped with a highly skilled labour force and efficient management practices, Mauritius manufactures products with high quality controls such as Boss and Ralph Lauren, for exports to the EU and the US.
The Mauritian textiles industry enjoys a good reputation among professional textile buyers. Famous textile distributors or retailers including 3 Suisses, Galeries Lafayette, Harrods, Selfridges, Mast and the Gap used to outsource their products from Mauritius.
The pact covers 10 kinds of textiles including T-shirts and flax yarn where the EU will permit annual rises in Chinese imports between eight and 12.5% a year until the end of 2007.
"We are obviously very happy," said Ahmed Parkar, chairman of the Mauritius Export Processing Zone (MEPZA).
"It shows there is a will to monitor and control Chinese garments exports which have soared. This will allow our industry some more time to adapt to the new trading environment."
"It shows there is a will to monitor and control Chinese garments exports which have soared"
chairman of the Mauritius Export Processing Zone
The MEPZA is an umbrella body of the Indian Ocean island's textile and garment exporters. Europe is their most important market as it buys two-thirds of the island's apparel exports.
In January a global quota system that helped Africa's textile sector flourish ended, raising fears that an onslaught of cheap Chinese textiles would wipe out its business.
Nicholas Maigrot, managing director of the island's largest pullover producer, Floreal Knitwear, said the accord was good news for Mauritius and other textile and garment producing countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
"It is important for the main garment importing countries like the European Union and the United States to keep a check on Chinese exports as it can destabilise world markets and harm small producers like Mauritius," he added.
Among the categories of garments whose export growth on the European market will be limited by China, pullovers, T-shirts, trousers and blouses are the most relevant for Mauritius as they constitute the bulk of its garments export.
Mauritius exported 22.9 billion rupees ($790 million) worth of clothes last year according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
The textile industry plays a key
role in the Mauritian economy
The textile and garment industry employs 53,500 people with about 250,000 indirectly employed in a sector contributing about 9% of gross domestic product.
Francois Eynaud, managing director of Tropic Knits, also welcomed the news but sounded a note of caution. "It is good news but it will all depend on the efficiency of the monitoring of garments export from China", he said.
Sub-Saharan African states have seen their textile industries grow sharply in the last five years due to a preferential trade deal with the US, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
AGOA provides the poor countries with duty and quota-free access to the $11 trillion US market.
But that advantage is under threat due to a surge in textile imports from China and Asian countries which have increased exports to the US and Europe after the end of global quota system on 1 January under the World Trade Organisation.
Many textile factories in sub-Saharan Africa have closed, eliminating jobs for thousands of employees, especially women.