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Middle East carves U.S. niche

Don Hogsett -- Home Textiles Today, October 1, 2001

Despite the political tensions that have wracked Middle Eastern nations for well more than a decade, the region in general, and Israel in particular, continues to be a small, but growing, supplier of imported home fashions textiles and products to the big U.S. market.

For years, Israel was the dominant Middle Eastern textiles supplier to the U.S. market, perhaps most widely known for producing the super-soft sateen fabrics produced by Kitan Consolidated Ltd and used in Crown Crafts' ground-breaking Royal Sateen luxury bedding program.

But playing catch-up, and last year leap-frogging past Israel, is Egypt, America's staunchest ally among Arab nations. Last year, Egypt's home textiles imports into the U.S. totaled $13.9 million, edging past Israel's $12.6 million. Helping Egypt jump ahead last year, it more than doubled its sales of cotton sheets into the U.S., and boosted its sales of cotton sheeting fabric by 28 percent.

Joining the two front-runners, other Middle Eastern nations, including, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Arab Emirates are increasingly tapping into the world's largest market for consumer products. And even Iran, so long hostile to American interests, is testing the waters in wool carpets, moving from zero sales into the United States in 1999, to more than $1.6 million last year.

For years, the dominant Middle East player, not surprisingly, has been Israel, with big export positions in cotton terry, sheets, bedspreads, cotton sateen fabrics and print cloth. Indeed, Israel is the sixth-largest exporter of terry towels into the U.S. market, generating 3.0 percent of all terry imports into the U.S., positioned just slightly behind Turkey and well ahead of the Arab Emirates.

But coming on strong in several key categories, and taking some market share away from Israel, are other Middle Eastern nations, most notably Egypt, which made substantial double-digit gains in exports to the U.S. last year of cotton sheets, sheeting fabric, cotton bedspreads and quilts. On the down-side, Egypt's shipments of cotton towels dropped off sharply.

Middle Eastern export sales by product — 2000 vs. 1999
$ in millions

NA: not applicable
Iran, Morocco, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates are not included due to insufficient representation across all categories.
All charts source: ATMI
Israel 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $19.0 $16.2 16.9%
Cotton terry/other pile towels 12.2 12.8 -5.1
Cotton bedspreads/quilts 7.5 7.7 -2.9
Cotton pillowcases 4.1 4.6 -9.6
Wool blankets NA NA NA
Wool floor coverings NA NA NA
Man-made fiber floor coverings NA NA NA
Egypt 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $5.2 $2.2 135.5%
Cotton terry/other pile towels 6.5 8.0 -18.3
Cotton bedspreads/quilts 0.9 0.5 75.2
Cotton pillowcases 1.9 0.6 220.0
Wool blankets NA NA NA
Wool floor coverings 12.7 11.8 7.2
Man-made fiber floor coverings 33.2 31.2 6.4
Colombia 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $2.6 $1.2 122.3%
Cotton terry/other pile towels 10.0 9.3 7.4
Cotton bedspreads/quilts NA NA NA
Cotton pillowcases 0.6 0.3 120.7
Wool blankets NA NA NA
Wool floor coverings NA NA NA
Man-made fiber floor coverings NA NA NA
Saudi Arabia 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $2.0 $0.9 117.7%
Cotton terry/other pile towels NA NA NA
Cotton bedspreads/quilts NA NA NA
Cotton pillowcases 0.3 0.2 94.9
Wool blankets NA NA NA
Wool floor coverings 0.5 0.0 2,468.4
Man-made fiber floor coverings 5.9 4.0 46.7
Turkey 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $17.9 $12.6 41.9%
Cotton terry/other pile towels 30.1 15.0 101.0
Cotton bedspreads/quilts 31.0 34.6 -10.5
Cotton pillowcases 3.8 2.7 39.8
Wool blankets NA NA NA
Wool floor coverings 39.4 37.9 4.1
Man-made fiber floor coverings 6.0 5.3 13.7


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