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Europeans turn to the new world

Andrea Lillo -- Home Textiles Today, October 1, 2001

With the maturation of exporting within Europe, many countries there see the United States as the land of opportunity.

Backed by centuries of experience, Europeans find the young U.S. market ripe for picking, and though exports to the United States have remained a small portion of total exports, they still have accelerated, especially over the past several years. Product categories run the gamut of home textiles, though it is generally assumed that product from Europe is of high quality.

Spain, for example, exports 70 percent of its goods to European countries. But now, said Ignacio Dominguez, manager of the department of consumer products for the Spanish Trade Office in Miami, that is changing. "The European market is getting very tight, and exporting within Europe is not really considered exporting anymore, since we are all a part of Europe. The United States is real exporting, and we're now putting more resources into that."

In 2000, 16 percent of Spain's goods crossed the Atlantic to the United States, a number which has grown 20 percent to 30 percent over the past five years, Dominguez said. Total exports grew from $210 million in 1996 to $271 million in 2000, though most of that is within Europe.

"We didn't adapt our products to the U.S. market before because the European market was so huge for us," he said. Now the Spanish Trade Office brings companies here to visit trade shows and companies to learn more about this market. After exhibiting at the spring home textiles show in New York, Dominguez said that there has been increased interest in Spanish goods from the U.S. market.

Portugal also has boosted its exports to the United States, which is its fastest growing market overall. Eighty percent of Portugal's home textiles production is exported, of which 12 percent is to the United States, a number that has virtually doubled in three years. In fact, one-third of all exports of Portuguese sheets are destined for U.S. consumers. Approximately $706.3 million in total exports entered the United States in 1999, up slightly from $702.4 million in 1998.

According to Vera Colaço, product manager of the Portuguese Trade Commission, New York, "We are the fifth largest country to export home textiles to the United States," she said, "and our companies are growing and growing and expanding their facilities here in the United States."

Portugal's number-one consumer product export is home textiles. And though the country was previously known only for its flannel sheets, exports now comprise new areas such as bedding with higher thread counts, finer finished cloth, intricate jacquard weaving, jacquard woven towels, Madeira lace and embroidered table linens.

For high quality and design, companies turn to Italy, said Gil Szczesny, senior trade and promotions officer, Italian Trade Commission, New York. In the home textiles arena that includes such categories as bedding, table linens, cotton yarn, laces and trimming. And though home textiles are not as strong as apparel for Italy, she said that it still has increased over the past three years, from $44 million in exports in 1998 to $68 million in 2000, with steady two-plus percentage points a year.

France is another country where high-end, luxury products are the primary export. The U.S. imported $13 million of French home textiles in 2000, an 11 percent increase. The majority, 65 percent, was in bed linens, while table linens were 28 percent, and bath and kitchen linens were 7 percent.

In 2000, Belgium exported 2.9 percent of its home textiles to the United States, according to Febeltex, Belgium's textile federation, which was a slight decrease from 1999's 3.3 percent. However, the amount to the United States had grown by 10.9 percent in 2000, to 8,508,953 Euros (approximately $7.66 million) from 7,668,862 Euros (approximately $6.90 million) in 1999 and 7,600,300 Euros (approximately $6.84 million) in 1998.

In the Union Bank of Switzerland's Sectoral Trends report for 1999/2000, household textiles were seen as one of most promising segments of the textiles industry, and expectations were well above average for the sector.

Though Ireland doesn't export as much home textiles as other countries, "when you think of linen, you do think of Ireland," said Michael McNicholas, senior vp, consumer products, Enterprise Ireland, based in New York.

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

All charts source: ATMI
PORTUGAL 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $93.8 $94.1 -0.3%
Cotton terry/other pile towels 12.9 14.1 -8.5
Cotton bedspreads/quilts 61.4 62.6 -1.9
Cotton pillowcases 22.5 24.4 -7.8
Wool blankets NA NA NA
Wool floor coverings NA NA NA
Man-made fiber floor coverings NA NA NA
ITALY 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $14.8 $12.6 17.5%
Cotton terry/other pile towels NA NA NA
Cotton bedspreads/quilts 12.1 8.6 41.0
Cotton pillowcases 4.8 4.3 12.0
Wool blankets 3.1 3.1 0.6
Wool floor coverings 4.3 2.7 59.3
Man-made fiber floor coverings NA NA NA
SPAIN 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $6.2 $6.8 -8.8%
Cotton terry/other pile towels NA NA NA
Cotton bedspreads/quilts 3.7 2.2 68
Cotton pillowcases 0.6 1.4 -57
Wool blankets NA NA NA
Wool floor coverings 11.0 10.7 2.8
Man-made fiber floor coverings NA NA NA
GERMANY 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $2.2 $3.9 -44%
Cotton terry/other pile towels NA NA NA
Cotton bedspreads/quilts NA NA NA
Cotton pillowcases 0.6 1.0 -40
Wool blankets NA NA NA
Wool floor coverings 2.4 3.3 -27.2
Man-made fiber floor coverings 6.7 3.7 81.1
United Kingdom 2000 1999 % chg
Cotton sheets $0.7 $0.8 -1.6%
Cotton terry/other pile towels NA NA NA
Cotton bedspreads/quilts NA NA NA
Cotton pillowcases 0.2 0.3 -33.3
Wool blankets 2.1 1.3 62
Wool floor coverings 66.0 59.5 11
Man-made fiber floor coverings 10.7 9.8 9.2


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