This eastern Pakistani city is known for the roar of its power looms and the buzz of its sewing machines. Now, following massive floods that devastated the cotton crop, another noise is threatening to drown those out: the pleas of a struggling textileindustry begging the U.S. and Europe to open their markets further.
It’s a tough sell in the West, where the economic slowdown has left governments skittish about concessions that could cost jobs or votes. The European Union has agreed to tariff cuts, but only temporary ones. The United States, where control of Congress is at stake in elections next month, is avoiding them altogether, touting instead its billions in taxpayer-funded humanitarian aid.But Pakistan argues that trade, not aid, will deliver long-term economic stability and also help combat terrorism by giving poor youths an alternative to joining militant movements: money and jobs.
The country’s textile industry, which employs more than 10 million people and produces more than half of its $19 billion in annual exports, has been hit hard by electricity and natural gas shortages, inflation and deteriorating security conditions in the past three years. Then, this summer’s floods wiped out 2 million bales of cotton.
“Obviously, we’re very worried, because we could lose our jobs at any time,” said M. Shahid Malik, a 30-year-old father of three who stood soaked in sweat from running power looms. “We have to work so we can meet our living expenses.”
Workers in Faisalabad weave, dye, sew, fold and package colorful bed sheets, clothes and other goods destined for stores from Wal-Mart in the United States to Carrefour in Europe.
Some companies expect to reduce production by as much as 30 percent because of the cotton shortage. They may have to raise prices to stay afloat, though that would hurt them in international markets.
“We will try to survive, but it will be very difficult for us, ” said Sohail Pasha, chief executive of Riaz Enterprises, who expects his company will export about $21 million worth of curtains, bedding and other goods this year, down from its usual $25 million.