The economy, in particular the losses of manufacturing jobs, currently occupies the center stage in the presidential election campaigns in the U.S.—a dramatic shift from other issues that were considered priorities six months back. Some economic pundits are predicting (or acknowledging) recession. The situation is quite a contrast 10,000 miles away in India. For the past four years, India’s GDP has risen more than 8 percent. The growth in 2007 reached as high as 9.4 percent and is predicted to exceed 8 percent in 2008. Such growth is possible because of the increase in household incomes—approximately one third of India’s 1.1 billion people are now middle class—and the predicted growth in agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors. India is rising and moving ahead with opportunities in every sector—including those of nonwovens and technical textiles.
Forecast for nonwovens
Since the year 2000, India has seen an increase in one-stop superstores, commonly referred to as “big bazaars.” This increase in outlet stores, coupled with the nation’s economic growth, will lead to a higher consumption of disposable items such as nonwovens. In addition, the Indian government is planning to allocate funds for infrastructure projects such as highways and bridges, which require semi-durable and durable nonwovens and technical textiles.
According to estimates by INDA (the association of the nonwoven fabrics industry) and EDANA (European Disposables and Nonwovens Association), the current per capita consumption of nonwovens in India is less than 100 grams. The per capita consumption of nonwovens in developed markets such as the U.S. and Western Europe is around 3-3.5 kilograms. The per capita consumption of nonwovens is directly correlated with the per capita income levels of the population.
Using per capita income levels published by the World Bank, we identified growth rates, which we then used to calculate the per capita nonwoven consumption for India and the U.S. for the years 2005-2050. Assuming that the nonwoven industry is fairly developed when the per capita consumption of nonwovens reaches 3-3.5 kilograms, (the current state of the U.S. and Western Europe), nonwovens are poised to have a double-digit growth in India of approximately 13-15 percent per year in the next two decades, leading up to a developed stage in 2035. During this period, developed markets such as the U.S. and Western Europe are set to grow at a much slower rate of around 5 percent.
Drivers for growth
The Indian government is experiencing pressure to to sustain and develop the textile industry, which contributes to nearly one third of the nation’s foreign exchange income through exports, and provides the second highest employment next to agriculture. Supporting the growth of the textile industry means exploring opportunities beyond the conventional texile chain of fiber to fashion—the nonwoven and technical segments of the textiles industry.
The current decline of commodity textile exports due to the rise in the rupee against the dollar has exacerbated the situation. Further, the labor advantage that India has had is being challenged by countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh, which are capable of providing highly skilled, low-cost labor in the commodity textile sectors. In response, India’s textile industry is seeking to enlarge its competency in related textile fields such as nonwovens and technical textiles, which can cater to both the burgeoning domestic and export markets.
One program developed by the Indian government to support the growth of the nonwoven and technical textile industry is the National Mission for Technical Textiles, launched by India’s Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in the Texsummit-2007 conference in New Delhi. The mission is expected to expand the current technical textile industry to approximately 12-15 billion dollars by 2012. The program will focus on creating awareness, human resource development, capacity building of the nonwoven and technical textile industry base and the related machinery industry base, and establishing centers for research excellence and support with testing and standardization.
This mission spans the technical textile industry and focuses on those areas that will aid growth. The government has identified four important sectors within the technical textile industry for immediate attention and growth: Medtech, Geotech, Agrotech and Protech. As is evident from these prioritized sectors, durable and semi-durable technologies will take the lead, and disposable technologies will follow.
Another program, the Technology Upgradation Fund, launched in 1999 to stimulate under-developed sectors of the textile chain, will be continued during the current five-year plan, but with a broader application. The plan now includes the technical textile sector, which was not included in the earlier plan period. The fund provides a 10 percent capital subsidy upfront for new projects involving new machinery in technical textiles, with the addition of a 5 percent interest subsidy on the loans. Technical textile machinery, including machines for coating and laminating, spunmelt machinery, carded and thermal bonding machines and converting machines, are covered under the plan. Also, the basic custom duty on imported technical textile machinery has been reduced from 10 percent to 5 percent.
Special Economic Zones enhance Indian industry
To further stimulate growth, the Indian government has created Special Economic Zones (SEZs),which are intended to enhance foreign direct investments and exports from India. Currently, the government has approved 14 SEZs that have a focus on textile-related activities. SEZs provide duty-free imports and domestic procurement for 100 percent of exports. Tax incentives are provided for entities that are setting up their operations in SEZs; details can be obtained from the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, at www.commerce.nic.in. In addition to the programs provided by the central government for the technical textile industry, some state governments have their own textile-related incentive programs.
The Technology Information and Forecasting Assessment Council (TIFAC), an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology in India, will be investing approximately 18 million rupees to set up a center for excellence in technical textiles as a private-public partnership in DKTE College of Engineering in Ichalkaranji, Maharashtra. This unique program will have contributions from institutional and industrial partners worth 36 million rupees, and will undertake mission-linked projects that promote the nonwoven and technical textile industry.
India’s share of the technical textile industry is experiencing notable growth and is projected to be 10 percent of the global total by 2012. With a growth rate of 15 percent per year, opportunities for both international and domestic specialty fabrics companies are hitting their peak.
Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar is an associate professor at Texas Tech University, supervising the Nonwoven and Advanced Materials Laboratory. He is the founding chair of the editorial board and the technical editor of Nonwovens & Technical Textiles magazine published from Mumbai, India. Appachi Arunachalam is a visiting scholar from India working under the direction of Dr. Ramkumar at Texas Tech University.